It’s complicated: Why we need a new etiquette for handling what’s private and what’s public

Very timely and thorough look at the online private/public debate!


The private vs. public divide used to be relatively straightforward: things remained private unless you disclosed them to someone, either deliberately or accidentally — but even in the case of accidental disclosure, there was no way for your information to reach the entire planet unless it appeared on the evening news. Now, a tweet or a photo or a status update could suddenly appear on a news website, or be retweeted thousands of times, or be used as evidence of some pernicious social phenomenon you may never even have heard of before.

But you posted those things, so they must be public, right? And because they are public, any use of them is permitted, right?

A universe filled with nuance and slippery ethical slopes is contained in those questions. And while many of us have gotten used to the back-and-forth with Facebook (s fb) over what is private and…

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Where do we go from here?

Well, the next few months are going to be really interesting. The experiences I’ve had with social media and with this blog have started to help me outline how I might go about seeking opportunities to interact during my year in Australia.

I had intended to use social media to reach out and get to know people. However, it wasn’t going to be my main focus. I’ve learned that a healthy social media profile is only part of the equation. I will also need to carry out some on-the-ground work to head out and meet people face-to-face, which was also part of the original plan but now carries much more weight, since an online presence is not enough on its own. The social media aspect just begins and solidifies the in-person relationships I will be building. So, really, it’s social capital building that I’m going to be engaging in and it should be the strength of my weak ties that moves this forward.

Shaking Hands by Nicola Corby (flickr cc)

Shaking Hands by Nicola Corby (flickr cc)

So, here is where I start. I’ve begun to research and connect with individuals and businesses in the Adelaide area on Twitter. Complimenting that, I’ve also been researching organizations through their websites and other social media presences. I will probably remain focused on Twitter and LinkedIn in order to lend some credence to my professional skills, abilities and experiences. The blog will further reinforce my intentions in order to offset any concern there may be that I’m “selling” and improve my chances of being considered in earnest. If I am successful, this should increase the sense of safety for those I’m engaging with and hopefully result in affiliation.

In addition to my professional work, I’ve also started a personal blog to share more personal experiences that aren’t necessarily work-related. Another important skill that I’m learning to manage is maintaining multiple streams of information – in this case work and personal. I know that I’m far from mastering what goes where, but a healthy respect for the differences is important. Equally important is knowing where they can overlap. Maintaining both blogs has been a real challenge. I think that we have always maintained separate streams of communication in our lives, but having all of this information online in common formats has meant that we have had to decide what to put where and keep in mind that it is much more difficult to separate the two than it is in real life, where distance can be a contributing factor.

Now I just need to articulate what I can bring to the conversation, not just the technical details of how I will do it. What do you think? What’s missing from my plan? Do you think that this is going to be a helpful way to mange my own profile and connect with others?

The Oculus … Rift

I have to admit that my first reaction to the news that Facebook had bought Oculus was shock, with a tinge of fear.

I’ve had high hopes for Oculus Rift (Oculus is the company, Rift is the device) since hearing about the Kickstarter campaign back in 2012. I’ve been watching the development of the Rift and wondering what type of new experiences it might bring and how it would shape itself as an independent project. With the successful completion of the campaign, where it raised over $2 million, well over the intended goal of $250,000. When that happened, I remember thinking that this was a pretty good start and would tip off investors that there was renewed demand for virtual reality (VR) gaming, which was pretty much dead before Oculus brought it back.

I wonder how many out there remember when these systems were making the mall-circuit back in the 90s?

The Virtual Nightmare by Daniel Rehn (flickr cc)

The Virtual Nightmare by Daniel Rehn (flickr cc)

So, now that I’ve had a good 24 hours to consider what this means, I’ve come to two conclusions. First, that what I’m really having trouble with is the combination of Oculus and Facebook. I’m not surprised about the purchase, nor am I upset at either Oculus or Facebook for making what I think is a sound decision for both parties – it really was a matter of time and a matter of who would eventually pick up the company. Oculus needed financial backing, which started with Kickstarter and has now culminated in the $2B pricetag. I think it is somewhat naive for the Kickstarter crowd to expect that something this popular wouldn’t be scooped up. What concerns me is Facebook’s penchant for commodotizing its users. I’m interested in the game, not the purchase, which tends to be the focus for an advertisement-driven organization like Facebook.

Virtual Reality Headset Prototype - Pargon (flickr cc)

Virtual Reality Headset Prototype – Pargon (flickr cc)

As someone who would probably have purchased an Rift once it was shelf-ready, I will probably second-guess that decision now. Sure Facebook already has some of my information, but the micro-transaction craze has really gotten out of hand, although I realize that Facebook is not the only company to blame for this trend. What bothers me is that I am concerned that those developers who really would have had a leg up using system independent of a large organization’s focus, would probably have had an easier time changing the landscape of gaming. It’s this frontier attitude that made me excited for the Rift in the first place. Finally, we might have an opportunity to escape from the endless First Person Shooter (FPS), Role Playing Game (RPG), Platformer, Puzzle game loop.

c_a_v_e by William Cromar (flickr cc)

c_a_v_e by William Cromar (flickr cc)

My second reason for concern did have something to do with the Kickstarter crowd, although I’ll re-state that this shouldn’t have been that big of a surprise to anyone. The reason for my concern is for the destruction of the social capital that had been built up around the Rift. I’ve been learning a thing or two about social capital, mainly through the writing of Charles Kadushin. This concept is difficult to encapsulate, but easy to see in action. The Rift was an independent product, which had done amazingly well, based on the real capital that those who invested in its social capital were trying to realize. Kadushin explains:

On the individual level, social capital can mean that people who have a large number and/or a wide range of friends in different occupations, or who have friends in high-ranked occupations, have better occupational outcomes.

Here he’s talking about better occupational outcomes, but we can extrapolate this for the Rift. The loose network or highly motivated individuals who donated a fair amount of money to Oculus, could have been a major factor in it’s development and success. The simple fact that some are disenfranchised now, regardless of whether it is warranted or not, means that a certain amount of social capital (how much remains to be seen) is now not available to draw from. This weakening of the network that came together to initially fund the Rift is now not nearly as cohesive as it once was and there is no way to tell exactly where the holes are. Most are potential customers, but how many were potential developers, or potential writers?

So, where does this leave us now? Facebook/Oculus have the Rift, Sony has recently announced their foray into this gaming space. I’m sure that others will follow. It looks like the race is heating up, but I hope that it’s not a race to the bottom. I worry that large companies can’t afford to fail, so they stick to the tried and true (tired and true), whereas a small, nimble company, with a group of independent AND established developers might have been able to come up with something really unique. We will have to wait and see.

Sony by BagoGames (flickr cc)

Sony by BagoGames (flickr cc)

Offline sources:

Kadushin, C. (2012). Understanding social networks : Theories, concepts, and findings. New York: Oxford University Press


This week I created and uploaded my first ever video to YouTube. The experience was both harrowing and exhilarating. Although the situation is completely different, it reminded me a bit about the first time I ever entered a chat room. I don’t recall exactly when that was, but I do recall the feeling that I was talking with complete strangers who knew absolutely nothing about me or my motivations. I had some sense of how I come across in real life, but online all of those in-person social cues were missing. I recall wondering how to re-create my personality in the chat room. It’s interesting that, almost 20 years later, entering an online sharing space still retains the same mystery for me.

I wonder if it is coincidence or just the fact that it’s obviously been my focus recently, but that the subject matter of my first video illustrates potential reason for my discomfort in posting. On YouTube, I really have no shared experience, space or association to draw on. The network concepts of homophily and propinquity are not immediately apparent.

Now, here’s what I’ve learned recently about the online networking experience. Even though I don’t readily see myself as connected in this new digital space (YouTube, in this case), I actually have a lot more to draw from than is originally apparent. By virtue of making the decision to post, I am immediately inserting myself into a group of like-minded people. I am not the only person making this decision, nor am I alone in my choice of subject matter. I have also done my best to include information in my video about the other social networks that I’m more heavily involved in. I’ve included reference to friends and academic influences in these networks, which helps to situate me within these online constellations. I have actually provided enough information for the astute observer to piece together my background, current occupation, friends, school contacts and even a good idea of my personal ideologies, to a certain extent. Although it is a bit scary to think about, I have given a more well-rounded picture of myself than I would have if I had walked into a room of strangers!

Love it or Leave it

I had a very interesting discussion yesterday about social media and how difficult it can be if you don’t want to use it or feel that it is unnecessary in your life. Responses to conversations like this with those who do use it (and love it a lot) often include denial, anger, and bargaining. I have to admit that my decision to participate in social media has brought me through most of the seven stages of the Kübler-Ross model and I now sit firmly between depression and acceptance.

For the record, I think that this is an exceptionally good place to have landed. Through my class work, more on-the-side activity and by opening myself up to the opportunities, challenges and dangers of these networks, I’ve gained a much deeper understanding of the factors at play in this relatively new online environment. What I’ve discovered has both delighted and disturbed me. I’ve gone from lurker to participant in 10 short weeks. I’ve started, stopped, turned around, re-started and duplicated many of my efforts, all for pragmatic reasons, because this is the way I learn. The environment and infrastructure has allowed me the flexibility to do this and all I’ve given up is my personal data, which I’m pretty sure I had already given up in the first place.

I have read a few articles this week that have illustrated the wonderful variety of emotions toward social media. These range from those who have given it up, like Jordan Turgeon in his piece I Quit Social Media (And I Don’t Miss it Yet), to Kevin Allen’s Why I Love Social Media. In between are so many shades that it is exceptionally difficult to find common ground, which forces you to take a stand, no matter what that stand might be. Mine is reluctant acceptance, mostly due to inquisitiveness. I understand the benefits and I weigh the risks. Since I have chosen to study in this field, I don’t feel that I can do that effectively while standing on the sidelines. However, I can certainly participate in such a way that I am fully aware, and capable of helping others to be so, of the privacy and surveillance issues that we should all be discussing.

Now, for those of you who are dead-set against social media, I don’t think you can get away anymore with knowing nothing about its inner workings. Please take heed of the wisdom of Sun Tzu and “know your Enemy.” There’s a very quick blogpost by Allison in the site that nicely lays out what you should know about social media even if you never intend to use it. We’re well past the point where ignorance can be considered bliss and that ignorance may turn out to be more dangerous than you realize.

I’m not sure if this picture could be a sunrise or it could be a sunset. This is how I’m feeling about social media after all of this experimentation:

SunriseSunset - Michael L Baird (flickr cc)

88 Keys to a Fluid Internet

Warning: Broad and unrefined speculation follows.

This week I tweeted:

This was an indirect reaction to a blog post by Maureen Crawford (Press Pause, Let Go, Let Flow), including her tweet stating “Internet is liquid not solid”.  Musings on several other posts by MACT cohort colleagues Kelly Spencer (The Power of Flow in a Network) and Rohit Sandhu (Globalization through the lens of networks) kept these thoughts tumbling over the last 24 hours. What I’ve been mulling over is how fragmented I’ve felt my time spent online has been over the past few months.

This past month, my nightly routine has been:

  • Open Tweetdeck and see what’s going on
  • Check email on my phone or tablet
  • Check online new sources
  • Check blog sources
  • Check facebook
  • Check course outlines
  • Prepare blog post
  • Prepare wiki posts
  • Check LinkedIn
  • Find a new Social media site and see if it’s useful, or offers anything new
  • And several other steps I won’t bore you with

Yes, push notifications on my tablet and phone automate this process somewhat. Yes, news aggrigators mean that I can check multiple media sites at a glance. Yes, I’ve come up with a system to manage links. However, it still feels very static, despite the comfort level that I have begun to feel. Then I realized what was wrong: I’ve been pressing the keys but I’m not making music.

007/365 - Keys

I’m not yet at the point where there is melody in what I’m doing online. I’m pressing each individual social key but only occasionally is there relation to what I’m composing. I’m not sure if this is just me or if it is a technical fact of an instrument that is still in the early stages of development.

Then @dianambrown challenged me to develop the idea further:

Here is my response to date (requiring much more thought), continuing the musical metaphor, in three steps (and purely speculative):

  1. In order to continue developing the skills necessary to one day reach the potential of cross-internet mastery, we need more practice and the ability to personally tune our instruments. I think that practice is coming in droves, considering the amount of time that we’re spending attached to our devices. This tuning process is taking a bit longer, although it is catching on with coding being introduced in some classrooms, especially in the UK.
  2. As we are developing our skills, we will also continue to develop new systems to fill in the gaps in our communication ability. The number of apps launched each day is staggering. Filling in the holes in our networked lives has become big business and the only way to get a foot in the door in a saturated app market is to find something nobody else is doing.
  3. Of course, the last step is the hardest to describe. In my tweet back to @dianambrown I called it “personally relevant design.” What I meant by this is really being able to plan, select, modify, and launch our own set of features, using the skills and theory developed in practice, across the platforms selected to further our own means. This is the process akin to playing each note in a song and having the result be music, rather than just a series of tones. This is where online communication might begin to feel individual rather than an appropriation of someone else’s ideas.

At that point, if we ever reach it, our submissions to each other would reach a new level of meaning (hopefully understanding). Of course, at this speculative level, it sounds very utopian, and is meant to be so. Some of this may tie into discussions about the semantic web and, taken to its extreme, human-machine collaboration not dissimilar to conversations about technological singularity.

In any case, our ability to manipulate our experiences online, in order to achieve a more personal communication style, has already begun and has certainly come a long way, even in the last decade. Learning about and experiencing online communication in the last month has granted brief flashes of insight. At some point, I hope that they can coalesce into a coherent whole.

Early adopters aren’t prisoners, they’re optimists

Alcatraz-PaulKellyI just finished reading Carrie’s blog post The Prisoner’s Dilemma & eBay. In the post, Carrie gives a great explanation of the prisoner’s dilemma, so I won’t rehash that here. However, what piqued my interest was the idea that, given the prisoner’s dilemma, online transactions shouldn’t be taking place. Nobody should be willing to give over their credit card without first securing the goods they mean to purchase. In the traditional retail sense, you take your goods to the counter and then hand over your payment, which is why the transaction is easy and acceptable. Online, you see a picture of what you want, pay, and hope that it arrives at your door step (or is there when you go to pick it up).

Carrie gives a great explanation of why a service like eBay continues to thrive: trust. I was thinking about how it came to be in the first place. This also has to do with trust but I think that there’s a bit more to it than that.

I think the answer can be found in two places. First, many of the foundational aspects of networking come into play online, whereas they don’t necessarily in real life. In Understanding Social Networks, our best friend Charles Kadushin (2012) explains how homophily and propinquity play a large part in forming the networks that tie us together (p. 18-19). We have also learned that the more likely I am to have a certain trait or desire, the more likely it is that the people with whom I am networking will also share that trait or desire.

So what happens if I decide to create a company that sells goods online? Chances are, I’m going to build that service and test it out. I’ll probably involve my friends and family  or some close co-workers to help me out. Because we already share some of the same likes and dislikes, we will probably continue to get closer to each other through the act of sharing the same desire to improve on the service. Likewise, when it’s time to present that idea publicly, I’ll probably serve it up to a small population who also shares the same feelings or has the same outlook on whether it’s a good idea to use the service or not. We would start as a small group, with shared interests and a common sense of trust.

Second, this group of like-minded people probably share a desire to see the endeavour succeed, because that means that their endeavours are equally likely to succeed, should they adopt the same model. It is this combination of cooperation and shared experience that gets many traditional businesses off the ground, but is much more apparent in online circles. Once the foundation has been built, that trust can radiate out from the centre in order to sustain the business.

What do you think? Has this model really changed all that much for these online retailers?

Offline sources:

Kadushin, C. (2012). Understanding social networks : Theories, concepts, and findings. New York: Oxford University Press