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It's amazing to me how much I learn from conflict, frustration, arguments and losses. I don't try to exploit the miss-fortunes of others, but I admit to trying to learn from them. Earlier this week, a conflict arose which I wasn't expecting to learn much from, other than hearing the usual privacy and "Facebook is evil" arguments. But for once the blogosphere which doesn't talk a lot about accessibility taught me something big. Note: this is the point where I keep you in suspense about what I learned.

First, it's important to understand the basics of what happened, why and what the resolution is/should be. A very famous "A-list" blogger named Robert Scoble uses Facebook to keep up with friends and colleagues and share videos, pictures and other content he finds interesting. Suddenly, with no warning
Facebook disabled his account
The reason, as stated in their email, was that he'd been running an unaproved script to get the names, birthdays and email addresses of his Facebook contacts and use them to find his friends on another social network
he describes the script here

This is where the accessibility part comes in. Have those of you with screen readers ever noticed that you can't read the email addresses of your friends on Facebook? There will be a table, and it will have a row for the email address, but not the actual address? In the comments of the post, we learn that the script used OCR (Optical Character Recognition) to harvest the email addresses. OCR is used on one thing and one thing only... GRAPHICS!

In essence, this shows that the email addresses on facebook profiles are similarily formatted to CAPTCHA's, those obnoxious pictures of "words" you have to type into the box below. It's a connection I've always missed, but a big one. Yes, I checked this on my own profile.

So what does this mean to people who are blind? That depends on who you are. If you're a student, or a heavy user of Facebook, it means that a vital source of contact information isn't available. True, you can message someone using facebook and contact them, but that won't work for sending attachments and is inconvenient for long conversations, working on projects and other similar activities.

This is a big accessibility issue which needs to be addressed, but first, I want to make sure I'm truly seeing what I'm seeing. It would be helpful if those of you who use screen readers could tell me if you're experiencing the same problem. If so, I will be writing a letter to Facebook.

What you'd need to do to test this is check whether you can see the email addresses in contact information on your friends' profile. When I look for this, I see only the words "Email addresses", but no information. Then click the "Add a shot of espressor" or "Add a comment" link associated with this post. If you're sighted, you can turn off the display of graphics and see what we hear, or close to it.

I'm happy to report that Mr. Scoble has been re-enstated on Facebook.


( 4 shots of espresso — Add a shot of espresso )
Jan. 5th, 2008 09:40 pm (UTC)
It does the same thing to me, it's not just you. Annoying as hell.
Jan. 7th, 2008 01:22 am (UTC)
I have this problem, too, Nikki, and always wondered why. I'll be glad to sign your letter/petiition and help any way I can.-Caitlin.
Jan. 17th, 2008 07:31 pm (UTC)
Suggestion you could take to Facebook
I wonder if the email harvesting programs would bother with alt-text on the image - alt="jim at jimthatcher dot com", for example. The picture of the email address on facebook doesn't have any alt-text now; this would fix that problem.

Another posibility - on my contact form, http://jimthatcher.com/contact.htm, my email address is hidden with javascript.
May. 26th, 2010 07:12 pm (UTC)
I always wondered about that. I'll help if possible.
( 4 shots of espresso — Add a shot of espresso )


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