Rethinking publicness

over the past several weeks, a basic question has been hovering in my conscience.

what is the impact of the information and content I share over social networks?

who reads these updates, and what are their interpretations of them. when was the last time I saw any one of these people, have I ever met some of the subscribers (or information grazers) ? what will happen when I meet someone who knows me as twitter handle @mitensampat in person. (disclaimer: i have had a couple of these encounters already)

I am sure a lot of you have probably thought about this question; have interesting interpretations and done some form of course correction. platforms such as facebook, twitter, yelp, flickr, wordpress and their ilk have increasingly become “public”.

the reasons I am classifying them as being more public today than 12 months ago, are as follows:

a) online social networking is mainstream: I guess the title of the topic says it all. Facebook has gone from being a platform for me to hangout with my friends, to one where I now also find my colleagues, family, and my extended social network. the same holds true for twitter (while linkedin is still niche).

b) search penetrates the social sphere: I vividly recall searching for my name on Google in 2006/2007 (close to when I was graduating from VT) and being delighted at the fact that Google was able to locate my research papers and a link to my homepage. Compare that with today, and a search for my name reveals most of my activity on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and wherever else I exist in the online world. Scary and amazing at the same time.

c) ease of publishing: I can co-publish a Tweet to my Facebook status message, and my LinkedIn profile with one click on anyone of my 4 devices (phone, tablet, laptop, tv) and through the magic of the internet that message will appear in feeds globally. My point is that the cost of performing the task of sharing has come down to zero.

d) noise: given ©, everyone is now able to create content and express themselves with ease. the freedom and ease of expression is a great thing, dont get me wrong. at the same time, the volume of information makes it feel like standing in the middle of a town square trying to take in whats going on.

so where do we go from here? there are several interesting platforms that will emerge (and are already popping up) with their own flavor of focused/niche/elite/restricted/vertical social networks. Path, Fridge, GroupMe and a host of others are busy at work in the space. I must add that Ning was the first company to build vertical social networks, but perhaps they were ahead of their time.

the notion is that people want to share different kinds of stories about their lives with different groups of people. I dont want my work colleagues to know everything about my collegiate adventures, and I want to continue to do those when I am off work. taking it one step further, there may be certain events where I’d like to have follow up conversations and restrict them only to the in-person participants.

Focusing such social sharing will also increase the value each one of us can extract from participation: less noise (a.k.a. better quality), separation, and better control. I for one, have become a bit more measured about sharing photos, videos, and increasingly now my status updates/thoughts as well. It isnt a anti-social-network thing at all, I think its a realization that all that is being shared is public.

Lastly, a shout-out to the work done by Danah Boyd. She did her dissertation on how teens conduct themselves on social networks, and is currently a social media researcher at Microsoft Research. I would love to hear your reactions in the comments section below.

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