My last post got several interesting comments, which got got me thinking about what is creepy, and what to do about it. The uncomfortable feelings that some social software implementations create can be a major inhibitor of adoption, so understanding what
My colleague Nick Jones offered a potential algorithm for determining levels of creepiness, but what really makes things creepy? In his comment, he proposed surprise, uncertainty and intrusiveness, but is that all?
Everyone knows what makes them feel creepy, but what are the attributes that are more likely to make someone feel that way? Here are some I have thought of:
- Vulnerability: Actions involving people who are in some way vulnerable are much more likely to attract creepiness. Anything that deals with children, the elderly, victims of any kind or even just people in a lower position of authority are far more likely to tend towards the creepy side.
- Context: Where and how interactions happen can have a tremendous influence on how people perceive them. Teasing or jokey comments which would be appropriate on an informal discussion board could easily turn creepy if used in a more formal venue, like a performance evaluation or project appraisal.
- Tone: How something is said is more important than what is said. Tone can be wrong for the particular context (see above) or just plain wrong. The easiest example is vulgar, obscene or hate-filled language.
- Sneakiness: No one likes it if they feel that something has been snuck past them, collecting information or making connections that they don’t expect or couldn’t anticipate. Most users of free social media sites have gotten used to ad targeting based on information provided on the site. But when different sites share their information or pool it, then it can feel unpleasantly intrusive.
If someone emails a friend from Gmail about a holiday in Brussels, it would be no surprise to see an an advertisement for Belgian hotels on the Gmail home page. It would feel creepy if those ads started appearing on newspaper sites. It would be alarming if after joining a Facebook group about World War I history, ads or spam for tours of Belgian battle sites started appearing. That would feel creepy.
- Specificity: The more specific the information or actions come to me, the more likely I am to get creeped out. If the spam for WWI battle site tours seemed to know the dates of the planned holiday, that would be very unsettling.
Some of these overlap or are covered by Nick’s three-part criteria, but I felt they were worth elaborating on, I would be interested to hear about the attributes of what you find creepy. Please add thoughts and descriptions in the comments. I am not asking for individual incidents or anecdotes, but the common threads of what companies or software products have done to make you feel that they have crossed the line.
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