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 publicly expose data in greater quantity and in greater quality (i.e. increasingly sensitive, or personal data).
Despite my love for trying all these new services, the truth is I am very hesitant to expose my own personal data in public* ways. As an example, I was absolutely against the idea of Foursquare (a service that reveals your location) until I began to understand something…
Why Am I Sharing Publicly?
In thinking about why I’ve chosen to make more of my personal data public, what’s become clear is that it’s all about the data — not about the social.
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. My personal experience is that my data exhaust leads to ever increasing “net personal benefits.” I use new services that make me more efficient, save me money or help me find new opportunities. So far the pros of my participation far outweigh the cons. It’s a tradeoff I am happy to make.
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 for its data byproducts: tips, specials and the record of everywhere I’ve been. Even my observations of Twitter usage mirror this trend: I see much less conversation than I used to. It’s less about the social.
What excites me still about Foursquare is that the value of the company’s (and its API developers’) net personal benefit to me should continue to improve and increase. As a data asset, Foursquare is only in its infancy: the derivative value of knowing where I am and where I like to go is huge and the potential value that can be returned to me is definitely worth the tradeoff (IMO).
Will there be a New Moore’s Law?
Based on my own personal observations, I believe that the more data you expose publicly, the greater your proportion of net personal benefit(s) received. (Thus, as @lessin suggests, passive beats active in the long run).
Small examples: I join Linkedin and people are able to find me and offer me jobs. I join Mint.com and Mint is able to help me save money and manage my personal finances. I join Foursquare and I am learning about ‘specials’ and what to try at new venues. It’s early days, but those are all tangible benefits.
Why Mark Zuckerberg Is Likely Right
If my thesis — that the more data you are willing to share equates to the more net personal benefit received — then Zuckerberg is right to bet on 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. For someone like Facebook, being the system (or API) that surfaces the data other systems synthesize is a very powerful and lucrative position to be in. Forcing public makes sense in that context as a buisness decision.
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.
I’m all about incrementally improving my life and I am happy to make tradeoffs to do so, assuming the consequences and terms are clear. I would bet that most others would agree with me. My public sharing is about the derivative value I get, not 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. However, this will likely change over time.
*Note that I consider ‘public’ data to be a spectrum, from sharing bank account information with Venmo, to a public status update on Twitter.