I’m a pretty gregarious kind of person; I like spending time with people, stay awake all kinds of hours, travel quite a bit (on business as well as pleasure). So I know a lot of people, and a lot of people know me.
Which means I land up with a lot of information about how to contact people: telephone numbers, e-mail addresses and the like. I store this information in all kinds of places, I guess we call them social networks now. And when I store this information, I tend not to think of it as mine. Or as the social network’s. Most of the time I am a trustee of that information.
So when you give me your private mobile phone number, you trust me with that information. I am not empowered to give it to anyone I feel like, you trust that I will use that information wisely. It isn’t my information. It’s yours.
I think a lot of people feel that way.
In the old days, there was a clear distinction between professional and personal, and address books worked that way as well. When job migration was low it made a lot of sense. Now, with security of tenure a distant memory, this is harder to figure out. Quite often people have relationships that last beyond the jobs they were in when they met for the first time.
Which makes me think. Does the average professional relationship last longer than the average professional job? Have we worked out what the implications are?
The kernel for this post was an article I read on the plane coming over to San Francisco. The headline was amazing:
Court orders ex-employee to hand over LinkedIn contacts
You can find the whole story here. It conjured up visions of this thing called LinkedIn contacts being ceremonially handed over from one person to another.
And for a moment there I thought that the value was in the relationship and not in the contact information.
If there is no relationship then it is just data. Who cares who owns it, it is just commodity. Where there is a relationship, and where the information is scarce, it is usually held in trust and cannot be given away anyway.
All this is about contact information. When we start talking about derived and ancillary information, to do with things like relationship networks, friend wheels, social graphs and so on that’s a whole different ball game. The same is true about patterns of behaviour: buying, selling, watching, eating, reading, listening.
When it comes to contact information alone, the value is not in the data but in the relationship.