What we share: Continuing to look at privacy, sideways

We now have a growing and fascinating array of tools with which to share information with others, “social” tools. Having spent some time recently thinking about why we share (posts here and here), I wanted to spend some time sharing my thoughts with you on the topic of what we share; in a few days’ time, I will spend some time looking at the question of whom.

I think there’s an overarching principle here: everything we share should be for the edification of someone. It should build someone up, should encourage someone, should help someone learn something of value, should assist someone in doing something they’re interested in doing.

There has to be a someone in mind. Even if that someone is you.

So that’s the first filter. Is what I am about to share capable of edifying someone? If the answer is no, then I resist the temptation to share.

The next filter is related to the precise nature of the information that is being shared. I try and think of the information as belonging to one or more of the following classes:

  • Environmental alerts and signals: location info, climate info, traffic info, that sort of thing
  • Social object analysis: reviews and ratings of books, films, restaurants, songs, shows, plays, etc
  • Noteworthy pointers: links to news items, articles, blogs, even RTs, particularly news and views related to my network of relationships
  • Activity narratives: What I’m listening to, what I’m doing, what I’m eating, what I’m watching, what I’m reading
  • Human-powered search and assistance: Basically a cry for crowdsourced help.
  • Mood and presence indicators: Available or busy signals, online or offline indicators, and so on.

I try and remind myself what the nature of the information is, just to get a feel for what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. If I can’t figure it out, I stop. [In reality this is not a mechanical exercise, it happens very fast because it becomes instinctive and intuitive over time].

What this clsssification does is to simplify my approach to the next filter, that of “ownership” and confidentiality.

Am I free to share this information with others on an unrestricted basis? Is the information really mine to share with others? This is a critical issue. Take a simple example. Let’s say I have your personal mobile phone number. What I really have is a loan of your number giving me the right to use it, rather than an inalienable right to pass on to others. Liberty is not licence. So that means I cannot always share what I am doing, because I cannot assume that others I’m with are happy to have their whereabouts and activities shared in public. I have to think about it.

Which brings me to the next filter. Will what I am sharing have an adverse effect on anyone? When I look at something like Twitter, I am disappointed with the number of people who share minute-by-minute football scores, for example. This comes under the heading of “spoilers”. We live in an age where many people time-shift their interaction with many forms of entertainment, and we have to make sure that we do not impede their ability to continue doing this. So film plots, book plots, sports scores, TV series developments, these are all areas where we have to exercise careful judgment. [In this context, I love the way imdb has clearly signalled spoiler alerts in their reviews.]

This then moves me on to quite a hard question, how often should I share? And you know the honest answer? Only experimentation will tell. From what I’ve seen so far, people appear to have different tolerance levels for frequency in different sharing environments. If I look simply at Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, the sense I get is that people tolerate a high level of update on Twitter, a considerably lower level on Facebook and a significantly lower level on LinkedIn. This may not be the intent of the site and function designers, but it is what is suggested by the feedback I’ve received so far.

Some people asked me to cut off the link between my tweets and the facebook status. So I did. Others felt disappointed when I did that, and told me so. There wasn’t much I could do. I suggested they follow me via Friendfeed or directly via Twitter. Oddly enough, no one complained when Friendfeed disappeared into the Facebook stable. More recently, as it became possible for LinkedIn to display everything from everywhere, people started pinging me and asking whether I’d turn down my update frequency. So I did, primarily by cutting off direct connections between Twitter and LinkedIn. Again, some people complained.

The way forward appears to revolve around the use of hashtags, so now I use #fb and #in to signal where else I want my tweet to show. It’s kludgy, but it will do for now. In a perfect world I would not want this to be a publisher activity, it should be a subscriber choice. The publisher would encode tweets by theme or topic, the subscriber would only pull the thematic tweets that the person was interested in.

You see, someone who likes my food tweets may be completely uninterested in my music tweets. Someone who is interested in my book reviews may be left untouched by my cricket stories. So somewhere I have to encode outputs, and somewhere the subscriber has to select filters. That’s where we will have to head.

Which brings me to my final point for this post, the How much filter? We’re used to the term Too Much Information, but how do we do something about it? And here again only time will tell, experimentation is required before the conventions will evolve.

Right now, there is a simple continuum, twitter to tumblr (or equivalent) on to blog on to book (or equivalent). But that may change, as people seek to extend twitter size, reduce blog size, whatever.

So there it is. We should share things that edify people. We should have some idea of how this edification takes place. We should ensure we have the right to share the information. We should take care about unintended consequences and adverse effects; and we should keep a keen eye on overall frequency and length.

We’re still learning about all this. Ad-hoc conventions will emerge, evolve, mutate. The important thing is to be aware of these issues, because then we can have informed discussions about sharing and privacy and the social implications and how we create value.

3 thoughts on “What we share: Continuing to look at privacy, sideways”

  1. I never liked the idea of subscribing to topic filters – this unravels the stream and loses context. I may not be wholly interested in your cookery tweets, but I know they are connections to a cultural backbone. Similarly you use your life experience in Calcutta to inform your view of social networks. Separating these out as “noise” would be silly.

    Any psycho-analyst following @psd's unordered tumblr stream could produce a wealth of essays. Why rip the tendrils of despair apart just to line up “things loosely about HTML5”?

  2. Another outstanding read, and spot on as per usual
    It begs the question on what “filters” many other people apply before posting…
    I suspect that in part, much of the success of twitter, facebook or youtube et al can be attributed to morbid curiosity, or tabloid level, viral re posting of information you have classified as PEI (personal embarrassing information)

    Which may leave one with an issue of “how to manage personal brand” when the “paparazzi” now includes everyone else…

Let me know what you think