My good friend Mike authored a great post tonight on “behavior generated content.” An all-star cast followed up with great comments (@lessin, @andyweissman, @jonsteinberg, @ericfriedman and others). It’s worth a read.
A comment Jon Steinberg made struck a chord with me:
“it’s more an overall issue of people sharing more and the line being further public than we ever thought we’d be comfortable with. Each successive push goes further: Twitter to Foursquare to Blippy”
Yes! A simple but powerful observation. The early-adopters are pushing the envelope with new services that ask us to share publicly in greater quantity and at greater cost to traditional personal privacy.
Despite my love for trying all these new services, the truth is I am very hesitant to expose my own personal data. As an example, I was at first absolutely against the idea of Foursquare (a service that reveals your location) but I began to change my mind.
Why Am I Sharing Publicly?
What we share publicly, Union Square Ventures calls this “data exhaust“. Exposing information publicly inherently allows a data derivative to be created and this derivative can in turn be synthesized, often by third parties.
While scary in many ways, my experience is that data exhaust leads to ever increasing net personal benefits. Example; by knowing my preferences, new services make me more efficient, help me save me money or find new opportunities.
Back to the Foursquare example. Initially I began using Foursquare because it was hip among my friends and winning badges was fun. Now I only use Foursquare its data byproducts: the tips and the record of everywhere I’ve been.
What excites me still about Foursquare is that the value of the company (and its API developers) can offer me in the future when it can anticipate where I want to go, or suggest the best place for me to eat in a new city. As a data asset, Foursquare is only in its infancy.
Why Mark Zuckerberg Is Likely Right
My thesis — that the more data I am willing to share, the more net personal benefits I receive would validate Zuckerberg is right to bet on pushing for default public.
At the end of the day people are going to do whatever provides an improved lifestyle, as long as the tradeoffs are understood and the pros outweigh the cons.
Society is moving toward the start of a new inflection point on public data. In my immediate world, you’re increasingly in the minority by not having a public online presence. As data synthesis systems continue to improve, I believe that the benefits one will get from exposing data publicly will increase dramatically.
Not only that, but often the value that can be extracted from data exhaust increases exponentially based on the quantity of the underlying data set. Thus, as more people opt for sharing more, the net personal benefits all receive will also go up: a recursive loop. A great example of this is Esther Dyson advocating that for scientists to better correlate genes and disease, millions of people need to voluntarily have their genomes analyzed.
My public sharing is done for the derivative value I get, not for the act of sharing in and of itself. As of now, the net personal benefits received from public sharing is not yet compelling enough for mainstream adoption but this is likely to change.