If there’s anything that you want,
If there’s anything I can do,
Just call on me and I’ll send it along
With love from me to you.
To you, to you, to you.
Photo credit: Logan Abassi UN/minustah
[An aside for Beatlemaniacs. Apparently From Me To You was the third and last song to be credited McCartney-Lennon, as opposed to Lennon-McCartney].
Sharing is serious business.
Sharing creates value, and that value gets paid for in a variety of ways. Not all of those ways are understood, or for that matter even visible. Some years ago, Bruce Schneier, an erstwhile colleague and must-read blogger, put it quite bluntly: Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re Facebook’s customer, you’re the product. Its customers are the advertisers.
When I first saw that quote, I laughed. I’d heard the equivalent many times, in variations of “if you’re not the customer, you must be the product” or even more cynically “if you can’t spot the patsy at the poker table then it’s probably you”.
The quote still makes me smile. But it doesn’t deter me from sharing. It doesn’t deter me from joining services like facebook or Google+ or Chatter or Twitter or LinkedIn. Or for that matter the World Wide Web and the internet. [Disclosure: I work for salesforce.com, the makers of Chatter. And I have good friends who are involved with every one of the services named.]
It doesn’t deter me from writing posts like this, and sharing my thoughts with you.
People who know and trust each other can do amazing things together when they are connected and when they can communicate with each other. This has been the case from the time we learnt to talk; when all that connected us was air, we used sound and gesture and light to communicate across the open air. We shouted. We used tools to make our shouting louder. We used mirrors. Sent smoke signals. Whistled. Drummed. Waved flags. All these worked, but distances weren’t great. We could concatenate, daisy-chain our way to distance, passing whatever we wanted to pass from hand to hand. But it was slow, time-consuming, inefficient. So we didn’t do it that often, usually only in emergency.
We learnt to standardise, so that each participant understood what was being communicated in the same way. It didn’t always work, but errors were reduced and the process was accelerated. We moved data around; we got better at it. But it wasn’t persisted, and so it was hard to recall, to analyse, to aggregate, to gain insights from. Then came the telegraph and telephone and radio and television and the internet and the Web and email and chat and SMS and microblogs and and and. Analogue things became digital; broadcast models became networked, sometimes even peer-to-peer; transient data was persisted, then classified and archived. Search got better, so retrieval got better.
And that is how I think of social networks today. Places where people are connected. Where people can communicate with each other. Where they can share with each other. People are social. And they don’t worry too much about monetisation or business models. What they worry about is trust. Can they trust the person they are sharing with, can they trust the person or people who makes that sharing possible, can they trust the people involved in picking up, moving, delivering whatever is being shared? Trust. Not monetisation. Not business model. Trust.
As a result of the web, in our personal lives as well as in business, it has become possible to share pretty much anything. And magical things are happening. We can share our thoughts and ideas, just like I am doing now. I have no monetisation plan, no business model. I share in order to learn and to teach. Many of the people who read this post are people I count as friends. And many of those people share their views with me in similar ways. Platforms like WordPress and Typepad exist to make the sharing of thoughts and ideas possible. We can share our opinions, we can review products and services, as happens in TripAdvisor or Amazon; and we can share our experiences of buying and selling, as happens in eBay or etsy. We can share our learning via sites like Wikipedia; we can answer questions as in a Quora.
Sometimes we can even use some of these services in ways that weren’t part of the original design: there is a humorous side to what we share. [I particularly love how “The 2009-2014 Outlook for Wood Toilet Seats in Greater China” gets a review of
“I was thinking, ‘Sweet! Finally a version of Outlook that will run on my wooden Chinese toilet seats!!'”
But we know all this. We know about how the web makes sharing possible, easier, more enjoyable. [As a child I hated the idea of sitting and watching someone else’s holiday photographs or film while visiting their homes. Yet now, because I can choose the time and the place, I’m happy to do just that. Times change, conditions change.]
Sharing is serious business.
And with social networks and social logins, sharing has become even more serious business. Now we can share inventory among friends, in the form of food, beds, cars, whatever. We can share other forms of “assets”, such as our wireless passwords; our lifestyle-linked purchasing power; even our intentions (in going to a concert, even down to where we plan to sit), as shown in the snapshot below from ticketmaster:
We have to think of social networks as exchanges. Historically, exchanges came with high barriers to entry and access criteria, many were formed initially as exclusive clubs. Social networks, in comparison, come with low barriers to entry. Search costs are low, you can find out who else is there quickly and cheaply. Engagement and contracting costs are similarly low, as are execution and transaction costs.
We started off just communicating with each other; then we shared our photos and our activities, our opinions and our intentions. Now, particularly via the use of social logins, we can discover more and we can share more as a result. Who else (among our friend network) has done something, is doing something, wants to do something?
The ability to discover the experiences, opinions, actions and intent of our friends is powerful just by itself; when we augment that with the ability to share and exchange our inventory, it becomes truly magical.
Our experiences are themselves assets, when expressed in a codified, shareable, findable, retrievable form. Of course our experiences in terms of food and travel and hotels and buying and selling are valuable.
But not as valuable as our experiences in medical terms. Yet there are many many barriers to sharing medical information. Initiatives like the Open Data Institute are focused on the larger problem of making the taxonomies available and useful. Smaller, medically focused enterprises such as DNAdigest.org try and fight for the right to secure and share DNA data for genomics research; the Supreme Court has had to be involved in ensuring that human genes cannot be patented.
Our ability to share our experiences, often as stories, is part of what makes us human. Our ability to learn from those experiences has contributed to our capacity to exist. We have to fight to retain those rights.
It has become easier for us to share those experiences, to aggregate them, to learn from them. Because we have tools:
- tools that simplify our ability to share, to aggregate, to learn;
- tools that reduce the transaction costs involved, in terms of search and discovery, engagement and contracting; execution;
- tools that help us standardise in order to share;
- tools that help us have the vocabulary to make that sharing possible and valuable;
- tools that allow us to associate what we share with verified identities, places, times
I’m used to seeing headlines about people who manage to get asymmetric access to information that was not shared with them in the first place, in an environment where there is neither relationship nor trust.
This is not about those stories. Only today, a friend pointed me towards a story about how Google is working on a service to share clothes and gadgets and stuff with friends; he reminded me that services like Yerdle already do this. Those are the stories I need to see.
We need to see headlines about how value is generated from the sharing of information, between individuals, between groups of friends, across society as a whole. That’s really what social networks are about, at home and at work. Reducing friction and latency in engagements between people. Simplifying access to the ability to discover and share knowledge and inventory; accelerating the capacity to contract and to trade as a result; providing the tools to identify the trends and patterns, the insights that can teach us how to do things better.
And until we see those headlines, I will keep writing posts like this one.