Posts about publicparts

Rewired youth?

Pew and Elon University surveyed a bunch of blatherers, including me, about the impact of the internet on youth, asking us to respond to a number of contrary scenarios about the year 2020. Lots of interesting responses here. I saved mine. Snippets:

* Survey on rewired youth: In 2020 the brains of multitasking teens and young adults are “wired” differently from those over age 35 and overall it yields helpful results. They do not suffer notable cognitive shortcomings as they multitask and cycle quickly through personal- and work-related tasks. Rather, they are learning more and they are more adept at finding answers to deep questions, in part because they can search effectively and access collective intelligence via the Internet. In sum, the changes in learning behavior and cognition among the young generally produce positive outcomes.

In 2020, the brains of multitasking teens and young adults are “wired” differently from those over age 35 and overall it yields baleful results. They do not retain information; they spend most of their energy sharing short social messages, being entertained, and being distracted away from deep engagement with people and knowledge. They lack deep-thinking capabilities; they lack face-to-face social skills; they depend in unhealthy ways on the Internet and mobile devices to function. In sum, the changes in behavior and cognition among the young are generally negative outcomes.

* Me: I don’t buy the punchline but I do buy the joke. I do not believe technology will change our brains and how we are “wired.” But it can change how we cognate and navigate our world. We will adapt and find the benefits in this change.

Hark back to Gutenberg. Elizabeth Eisenstein, our leading Gutenberg scholar, says that after the press, people no longer needed to use rhyme as a tool to memorize recipes and other such information. Instead, we now relied on text printed on paper. I have no doubt that curmudgeons at the time lamented lost skills. Text became our new collective memory. Sound familiar? Google is simply an even more effective cultural memory machine. I think it has already made us a more fact-based; when in doubt about a fact, we no longer have to trudge to the library but can expect to find the answer in seconds.

Scholars at the University of Southern Denmark have coined the wonderful phrase “the Gutenberg Parenthesis” to examine the shift into and now out of a textually based society. Before the press, information was passed mouth-to-ear, scribe-to-scribe; it was changed in the process; there was little sense of ownership and authorship. In the five-century-long Gutenberg era, text did set how we see our world: serially with a neat beginning and a defined end; permanent; authored. Now, we are passing out of this textual era and that may well affect how we *look* at our world. That may appear to change how we think. But it won’t change our wires.

* Survey on education: In 2020, higher education will not be much different from the way it is today. While people will be accessing more resources in classrooms through the use of large screens, teleconferencing, and personal wireless smart devices, most universities will mostly require in-person, on-campus attendance of students most of the time at courses featuring a lot of traditional lectures. Most universities’ assessment of learning and their requirements for graduation will be about the same as they are now.

By 2020, higher education will be quite different from the way it is today. There will be mass adoption of teleconferencing and distance learning to leverage expert resources. Significant numbers of learning activities will move to individualized, just-in-time learning approaches. There will be a transition to “hybrid” classes that combine online learning components with less-frequent on-campus, in-person class meetings. Most universities’ assessment of learning will take into account more individually-oriented outcomes and capacities that are relevant to subject mastery. Requirements for graduation will be significantly shifted to customized outcomes.

Me: The disruption that has overtaken media will next take on education.

It simply does not make sense for thousands of educators around the world to write and deliver the same lecture on, say, capillary action — most of them bad. The best can be shared and found. Then, I believe, in-person education becomes more a matter of tutoring. Think of the Oxbridge lecturer/tutor structure distributed via the net. This quickly changes the economics of education: The marginal cost of another student learning from the finest lecturers in the world is zero. Teachers will need to see how they are needed and how they add value.

In my book, What Would Google Do?, I looked at separating the functions of a university: teaching, certification, research, socialization. These need not be accomplished all in the same space. Will there still be universities? Likely, but not certain. I also discussed the idea that our current educational system, start to end, is built for an industrial era, churning out students like widgets who are taught to churn our widgets themselves. This is a world where there is one right answer: we spew it from a lecturn; we exepct it to be spewed back in a test. That kind of education does not produce the innovators who would invent Google.

The real need for education in the economy will be re-education. As industries go through disruption and jobs are lost forever, people will need to be retrained for new roles. Our present educational structure is not built for that but in that I see great entrepreneurial opportunity.

* Survey on commerce: By 2020, most people will have embraced and fully adopted the use of smart-device swiping for purchases they make, nearly eliminating the need for cash or credit cards. People will come to trust and rely on personal hardware and software for handling monetary transactions over the Internet and in stores. Cash and credit cards will have mostly disappeared from many of the transactions that occur in advanced countries.

People will not trust the use of near-field communications devices and there will not be major conversion of money to an all-digital-all-the-time format. By 2020, payments through the use of mobile devices will not have gained a lot of traction as a method for transactions. The security implications raise too many concerns among consumers about the safety of their money. And people are resistant to letting technology companies learn even more about their personal purchasing habits. Cash and credit cards will still be the dominant method of carrying out transactions in advanced countries.

Me: Not only will our notion of currency change as it becomes electronic and (even more) virtual, but I see the possibility for new currencies measuring new value. We could, for example, award and trade in points for responsible environmental behavior. I also see the possibility to create new currencies that cut across national borders, independent of governments. We have already seen the first nascent attempts to do this. It won’t be easy but it is theoretically possible.

Survey on apps: In 2020, most people will prefer to use specific applications (apps) accessible by Internet connection to accomplish most online work, play, communication, and content creation. The ease of use and perceived security and quality-assurance characteristics of apps will be seen as superior when compared with the open Web. Most industry innovation and activity will be devoted to apps development and updates, and use of apps will occupy the majority of technology-users’ time. There will be a widespread belief that the World Wide Web is less important and useful than in the past and apps are the dominant factor in people’s lives.

In 2020, the World Wide Web is stronger than ever in users’ lives. The open Web continues to thrive and grow as a vibrant place where most people do most of their work, play, communication, and content creation. Apps accessed through iPads, Kindles, Nooks, smartphones, Droid devices, and their progeny – the online tools GigaOM referred to as “the anti-Internet” –  will be useful as specialized options for a finite number of information and entertainment functions. There will be a widespread belief that, compared to apps, the Web is more important and useful and is the dominant factor in people’s lives.

Me: Oh, I have downloaded lots of apps. But I use only a small number of them and I have seen research showing that this is typical. This survey showed that people use apps for certain obvious activities — such as games — but use their browsers for content, mail, and other functions. Since that data was gathered, Ugly Birds was ported to HTML5 and the browser.

The browser — or its future equivalent — will continue to have key advantages over apps: they are connected to the entire net; they offer full interoperability; they give the user more power than the developer or publisher. Yes, publishers have dreamed that apps would return to them the control of content, experience, business model, and pricing that the net took from them, but they are merely deluding themselves. The value is not in their control of content but in the ability to become platforms for users to do what they want to do.

* Survey on big data: Thanks to many changes, including the building of “the Internet of Things,” human and machine analysis of large data sets will improve social, political, and economic intelligence by 2020. The rise of what is known as “Big Data” will facilitate things like  ”nowcasting” (real-time “forecasting” of events); the development of “inferential software” that assesses data patterns to project outcomes; and the creation of algorithms for advanced correlations that enable new understanding of the world. Overall, the rise of Big Data is a huge positive for society in nearly all respects.

Thanks to many changes, including the building of “the Internet of Things,” human and machine analysis of Big Data will cause more problems than it solves by 2020. The existence of huge data sets for analysis will engender false confidence in our predictive powers and will lead many to make significant and hurtful mistakes. Moreover, analysis of Big Data will be misused by powerful people and institutions with selfish agendas who manipulate findings to make the case for what they want. And the advent of Big Data has a harmful impact because it serves the majority (at times inaccurately) while diminishing the minority and ignoring important outliers. Overall, the rise of Big Data is a big negative for society in nearly all respects.

Me: Media and regulators are demonizing Big Data and its supposed threat to privacy. Such moral panics have occurred often thanks to changes in technology. I examine this in Public Parts. With the advent of the press, authors feared having their ideas attached to their names, stored permanently and distributed widely. The invention of the Kodak portable camera caused the first serious discussion of a legal right to privacy in 1890. Now the internet and its ability to gather, store, spread, and analyze data is causing similar fears — witness the Wall Street Journal’s effort to whip up a moral manic over cookies and “what *they* know.” That’s not to say that we should not guard against untoward outcomes; technology itself is neutral and can be used for good ends and bad. But the wise will look for and exploit the new opportunities technology provides.

Case in point: the researchers who found that by analyzing the mood of twitter — a set of six emotions and their opposites — they could, with stunning reliability, predict daily ups and downs in the Dow index. Not surprisingly, their formulae are now the basis of a hedge fund. Someone found value in the supposedly worthless blathering about our lives. I would not be surprised if others find the same value and neutralize the researchers’ advantage or even if clever spammers find ways to game the mood on Twitter. But the moral of the story remains: there is value to be found in this data, value in our newfound publicness.

Google’s founders have urged government regulators not to require them to quickly delete searches because, in their patterns and anomalies, they have found the ability to track the outbreak of the flu before health officials could and they believe that by similarly tracking a pandemic, millions of lives could be saved.

Demonizing data, big or small, is demonizing knowledge and that is never wise.

* Survey on games: By 2020, gamification (the use of game mechanics, feedback loops, and rewards to spur interaction and boost engagement, loyalty, fun and/or learning) will not be implemented in most everyday digital activities for most people. While game use and game-like structures will remain an important segment of the communications scene and will have been adopted in new ways, the gamification of other aspects of communications will not really have advanced much beyond being an interesting development implemented occasionally by some segments of the population in some circumstances.

By 2020, there will have been significant advances in the adoption and use of gamification. It will be making waves on the communications scene and will have been implemented in many new ways for education, health, work, and other aspects of human connection and it will play a role in the everyday activities of many of the people who are actively using communications networks in their daily lives.

Me: I think gamification is overblown, but that could simply be because I am not a gamer. Angry Birds was fun while it lasted, but it didn’t change my life.

* Survey on connected homes: By 2020, the connected household has become a model of efficiency, as people are able to manage consumption of resources (electricity, water, food, even bandwidth) in ways that place less of a burden on the environment while saving households money. Thanks to what is known as “Smart Systems,” the “Home of the Future” that has often been foretold is coming closer and closer to becoming a reality.

By 2020, most initiatives to embed IP-enabled devices in the home have failed due to difficulties in gaining consumer trust and because of the complexities in using new services. As a result, the home of 2020 looks about the same as the home of 2011 in terms of resource consumption and management.Once again, the “Home of the Future” does not come to resemble the future projected in the recent past.

Me: Complexity is a solvable problem in the right hands. We should wish for the iHome from Apple. Connectivity will lead to efficiency when economics dictate: when we save a lot of money with our air-conditioning or when we are penalized for not doing so or when we penalize cable companies for the power-hogging boxes.

Survey on freedom: In 2020, technology firms with their headquarters in democratic countries will be expected to abide by a set of norms – for instance, the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) citizens being attacked or challenged by their governments. In this world, for instance, a Western telecommunications firm would not be able to selectively monitor or block the Internet activity of protestors at the behest of an authoritarian government without significant penalties in other markets.

In 2020, technology firms headquartered in democratic countries will have taken steps to minimize their usefulness as tools for political organizing by dissidents. They will reason that too much association with sensitive activities will put them in disfavor with autocratic governments. Indeed, in this world, commercial firms derive significant income from filtering and editing their services on behalf of the world’s authoritarian regimes.

Me: Pardon me for the plug, but this is in the end the point of my next book, Public Parts: It is a call for us to protect our tools of publicness. At the e-G8, I urged President Sarkozy to join with the national leaders he was about to meet and take a Hippocratic oath for the internet: first do no harm. His reflex and that of governments is to control and regulate. We, the citizens of the net, must resist and I believe the way to do that is to discuss the principles of the network. In the book, I propose a set of principles. They are wrong. Indeed, in our distributed internet, we will never — we should never — end up with one set of principles from one governance. The fact that no one can control the net is what makes the net free. But we do need to discuss the principles that underly our net so we can point to them when governments and companies violate them and so we can give cover to good actors who try to resist control from bad governments.

Gutenberg the Geek: A Kindle Single

I’ve just published Gutenberg the Geek, arguing that the inventor of printing was our first geek, the original technology entrepreneur. I find wonderful parallels in the challenges and opportunities he faced and those that face Silicon Valley (or entrepreneurial journalism) startups today. So I retell his story from an entrepreneurial perspective, examining how he overcame technology hurdles, how he operated with the secrecy of a Steve Jobs but then shifted to openness, how he raised capital and mitigated risk, and how, in the end, his cash flow and equity structure did him in. This is also the inspiring story of a great disruptor. That is why I say Gutenberg is the patron saint of entrepreneurs.

The Kindle Single came out of my obsession with Gutenberg that developed while I researched Public Parts. I also wanted to learn how Kindle Singles work (more on that later) -… and prove that I have nothing against charging for content! But I’m not charging much, only 99 cents (free in the Amazon lending library).

Tomorrow, I’ll link to an excerpt from the piece. I’d be honored if you bought the piece and said what you think here or at the Amazon page.

Leave our net alone*

The internet’s not broken.

So then why are there so many attempts to regulate it? Under the guises of piracy, privacy, pornography, predators, indecency, and security, not to mention censorship, tyranny, and civilization, governments from the U.S. to France to Germany to China to Iran to Canada — as well as the European Union and the United Nations — are trying to exert control over the internet.

Why? Is it not working? Is it presenting some new danger to society? Is it fundamentally operating any differently today than it was five or ten years ago? No, no, and no.

So why are governments so eager to claim authority over it? Why would legacy corporations, industries, and institutions egg them on? Because the net is working better than ever. Because they finally recognize how powerful it is and how disruptive it is to their power.

And that is precisely why we must fight against their attempts to regulate it, to change it, to throttle it, to oversee it, to insert controls into it, to grant them sovereignty over it. We also must resist the temptation to compromise, to accept the lesser of evils. Last week, Federal Communications Commissioner Robert McDowell warned of the danger of the U.N. asserting governance over the net, but then he turned around and argued that “merely saying ‘no’ to any changes to the current structure of Internet governance is likely to be a losing proposition.”

Why? I repeat: It’s not broken. This is why I urged French President Nicolas Sarkozy to take a Hippocratic oath for the net. This is why I have come to side with Sen. Al Franken on at least this: Net neutrality is not regulation; it is protecting the net from companies trying to change it. This is why the Reddit community is writing the Free Internet Act.

This is why I argued in Public Parts that we must have a discussion of the principles of an open society and the tools of publicness that enable it. This is why I wrote Public Parts. And that is why I’m posting the last chapter of the book, which argues that governments and companies are not protectors of the net and that we must be.

It’s not broken. Don’t fix it. Leave our net alone.

*Sung to the tune of….

We don’t need no regulation.
We dont need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the network
Government: Leave our net alone
Hey! Government! Leave our net alone!
All in all it’s just another brick in the wall.
All in all you’re just another brick in the wall.

Piracy v. do not track

Consider the similarities between piracy and do not track. They’re greater than you think, for both reduce value for content creators. And both are excuses for internet regulation.

In piracy, a content company sets business rules: You must pay for my product; if you take it without paying for it, you are robbing me of value.

With do not track, an advertising-supported content company sets business rules: You will get my content for free because I will serve you ads and I will increase their efficiency, performance, and value by targeting them to your interests and behavior; if you block the cookies that make that possible, you are robbing me of value.

The difference between the two is that there is a furor over piracy as theft but, quite to the contrary, there is a rush to enable the blocking of ad tracking as a virtue.

If you listen to The Wall Street Journal, Apple was a good guy for blocking by default third-party cookies (ask what Apple gets out of that). And it’s good news that technology companies just agreed to implement a do-not-track button on browsers.

There is nothing sinister about third-party ad tracking cookies. They’ve been used since very early in the history of the web when General Motors, for example, insisted in serving its own ads on content sites so it could verify what was bought and optimize its targeting. Without that ability, many large advertisers will refuse to buy ads and the value of ad-supported media could plummet — just at a time when we are concerned about how we will support news media.

Odd that a media company wouldn’t be crying foul. The Journal’s owner, Rupert Murdoch, cries bloody murder over piracy — going so far as to accuse Google of theft — but his paper crusades for blocking tracking, claiming it is a violation of privacy (though in most cases, the cookies have no personally identifiable information and so it’s hard to justify a moral panic based on their use).

Murdoch’s News Corp is, at its core, an entertainment company, thus a paid-content company. The ad-supported portion of his P&L is not only small but is causing him much agita as his journalists in the U.K. are accused of violating laws of the nation and the profession.

I’m not building a conspiracy theory. I’m just pointing to the priorities that emerge when one follows the money.

So what about the rest of the industry — the media, advertising, and technology industries, that is? Oh, they blew it. They were never transparent enough about what technology they were using, what data they were gathering, and why — not to mention the benefits that accrued to their users (i.e., free content). That opened the door for other parties — privacy scare-mongers, competitors for our media attention, and government regulators — to demonize the mysterious cookie and stir up this moral panic and paranoia. The M.A.T. industries have only themselves to blame.

In the EU, government regulators have decreed that sites must obtain opt-in permission to set cookies. In the US, the industry agreement today announced is an attempt to forestall government regulation with self-regulation.

But don’t be too quick to celebrate as if these are consumer victories. I believe the EU dictum could lead to (a) a much poorer web experience as we are bombarded with boxes to tick and (b) poorer media companies and thus (c) the possibility of less free media and more pay walls. And in the U.S., it has been shown that one can whip up an anti-net hysteria and bring even giant technology companies to expose their soft underbellies. Each leads to more threats of regulation of the net. That’s what I fear.

It is time for technology companies especially to adopt radical transparency of how they operate so they can’t find themselves in gotcha moments when the hysterical “discover” something they’ve been doing all along. Under such openness, it is also time for them to learn that doing sneaky things will not benefit them. And it is also time for the media, advertising, and technology companies to start fighting back against accusers’ misinformation and explain the truth of what they are doing and how we benefit. That is transparency’s dividend.

LATER: By the way, this post was inspired and informed by a discussion last night on This Week in Google, in which Leo Laporte said he was grateful that I was going so far that I was making him look moderate.

One more point from that discussion: We all practice blocking ads when we fast-forward through commercials on our DVRs. And the industry adapted and still prospers (for now). That’s what may happen here. But one should still recognize the impact of one’s actions — whether skipping or blocking — on the economics of what is provided. And one difference is that we have to skip each commercial manually (especially since, as Leo pointed out, a company that provided easy 30-second skipping was hounded out of business as a result). In the case of do not track, especially government-mandated opt-in — that is wholesale devaluing of advertising in a medium.

Economist debate on sharing: Round II

Here’s the second of three rounds in the Economist debate on the benefits of sharing. This is my response to Andrew Keen’s opener.

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Being public, I shall rely on the public to respond for me:

In a discussion on Google+, Google News creator Krishna Bharat writes: “The thrust of Keen’s argument seems to be that connectedness induces peer pressure for conformity which kills diversity…. This is a specious argument because connectedness/proximity does not induce commonality. Never has and never will. Otherwise, Jerusalem would be one homogenous happy culture with Palestinians and Israelis living in proximity…. What connectedness does induce though is a heightened awareness of how other people are and think, and ultimately empathy. That is certainly not a bad thing.”

Commenter Kevin Bonham goes the next step: “I think the ability to share actually increases the ability of radicals and new thinkers to flourish. In a world where innovators are dependent on traditional power brokers to spread their ideas, many great ideas could be lost for lack of exposure….”

But in the debate here at The Economist, commenter czlee raises a challenge: “We are only ever protective of privacy when we fear that someone else will pass judgment…. In order for the proposer to hold his line, I believe that he must also advocate a less judgmental society.”

That is indeed my hope and, back at Google+, Mr. Bonham presents the best exhibition for optimism: “For hundreds of years, gay people were in the closet, isolated and alone. As soon as they started being public, other gay people realized they weren’t alone, and that they had allies, and a movement got started.” No one should be forced out of a closet, but those who had the courage to stand out and challenge bigots and bullies used their power of publicness to disarm stigmas.

At Google+ Daniel McCully responds to the question I raised about regulating technology, arguing that doing so would “just hold back progress…. The cost benefit comes once the world has changed and people have discovered new ways to work in that world. Even the radio was once seen as a bad thing and a form of piracy. You don’t stop change, you adapt to it.”

Agreed. What we’re experiencing now is an effort to negotiate new norms for our new reality. It’s hardly the first time. The first serious discussion of a legal right to privacy in the United States did not come until 1890. The reason: the invention of the Kodak camera, which led to a similar moral panic about privacy, with The New York Times decrying “fiendish kodakers,” President Teddy Roosevelt outlawing kodaking in Washington parks, and legislators ready to require opt-in permission from anyone photographed in public. We negotiated our norms and cameras don’t scare us anymore. But now a new technology does.

“We are all in uncharted territory of openness,” Brit Koehnig writes, asking us to note that where “there is no Facebook, there is no freedom.” That’s not causation, of course, but it is correlation, revealing that fear of openness is a trait of tyranny.

Economist commenter Voice of Pragmatism points out that “this paper itself recently ran an article about the effect of blogging in the field of Economics, partially crediting the recent rise of heterodox views such as the Austrian School and Chartalism to increased usage of social media…. [T]o argue that unconventional thought is stifled, when it is far easier than ever before to connect with people who share your atypical viewpoint, is absurd.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

As for the unscientific and thus quite meaningless voting here, my opponent attempted to marshal his meager Twitter forces to stuff the ballot box. I responded by asking my followers on the podcast This Week in Google and in Google+ and Facebook to vote their conscience–and my side. In minutes, a 37% vote in favor turned into 70%. There’s another benefit of being public and having a public.

* * *

Oh, and if you’d like to vote — for my side, please — you can do it here.

Privacy and speech

Two notable decisions in Europe reflect the tension between privacy and free speech.

The European Court of Human Rights came down on the side of press freedom — thus speech — when it ruled in favor of media reporting on public figures. And a Dutch German court ruled that journalists had a right to interview a Nazi murderer with hidden cameras.

This tension is addressed but only glancingly in the EU’s proposed rules on privacy, which create vague carve-outs for journalism, history, and scientific research.

What none of this acknowledges at a more fundamental level the right we have to talk about someone else (with carve-outs for libel and slander already in the law) — not just the press and not just public figures. If you tell me I must forget you and erase what I have said about you, then you affect my speech. If you reveal something to me and I interact with that information and then you claim the right to pull back your information, then we must debate about who has rights to the results of our interaction (whether that is a conversation or a transaction).

Privacy isn’t as simple as some of its advocates would lead us to believe. It is interweaved with other rights and interactions.

I’ve been studying the full proposed EU privacy regulations and now I’m going through ancillary documents. I’ll be writing more about this soon.

Economist debate on sharing

The Economist has just launched a debate between me and Andrew Keen — and you — on the proposition that society benefits when we share information online.” Here is my opening statement; follow the link for Andrew’s and the discussion:

* * *

We are sharing for good reason—not because we are insane, exhibitionistic, or drunk. We are sharing because, at last, we can, and we find benefit in it. Sharing is a social and generous act: it connects us, it establishes and improves relationships, it builds trust, it disarms strangers and stigmas, it fosters the wisdom of the crowd, it enables collaboration, and it empowers us to find, form and act as publics of our own making.

For individuals, sharing is a choice; that is the essence of privacy. Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, told me that before the net, we had “privacy through obscurity”. We had little chance to be public because we had little access to the tools of publicness: the press, the stage, the broadcast tower (their proprietors were last century’s 1%). Today, we have the opportunity to create, share and connect, and 845m people choose to do so on Facebook alone. Mr Zuckerberg says he is not changing their nature; he is enabling it.

I shared my prostate cancer—and, thus, my malfunctioning penis—online. Nothing bad came of this, only good: information, support from friends (who could not have known had I not been public) and the opportunity to inspire other men to be tested. Let me emphasise: that was my choice; no one should be forced to publicise their life.

But imagine if we did feel free to share our health data. Think of the correlations and possibly causes and cures we could find. Why don’t we? We fear losing insurance (though insurers already demand our data) or jobs (that is a matter of discrimination to handle legislatively).

Most of all, we fear stigma—though in this day and age why should anyone be ashamed of being sick? In the tension between secrecy and openness, these are the kinds of benefits we should be considering, balancing them with the risks as we adapt society’s norms to new realities and new opportunities.

Our institutions should share for different reasons. The wise company is opening up to build direct relationships with customers, to inoculate itself against the dreaded viral meme, and even to collaborate on the creation of products (see Local Motors’ cars, designed with customers).

Government must learn to share its work and knowledge with its citizens. It must become open by default and secret by necessity (and there are necessary secrets in relation to security, diplomacy, criminal investigations and citizens’ privacy). Today, government is instead secret by default and open by force (that of the journalist or the leaker).

If WikiLeaks has taught us nothing else, it is that no secret is safe and that too much government information has been classified as secret (consider the role of leaks in the Tunisian uprising and the subsequent Arab spring).

Openness is proving to be profoundly disruptive. When we share what we pay for goods, we ruin price opacity and retailers’ margins. When we share our frustration with government, we can start revolutions. This is why institutions—news, media, corporate, government, academic—often resist the draw of openness and fear its impact. And that is why we are seeing a sudden rise in efforts to regulate our greatest tool of publicness, the net, under the guises of piracy, privacy, security and decency.

Too much of the conversation about sharing today revolves around risks—risks to privacy (which does need protection, and it has many new protectors) and risks to intellectual property (though media companies need to learn that controlling scarcity will become an increasingly difficult business model to execute). We also need to have a discussion about the benefits of sharing and the tools that enable it, so we can protect their potential.

Facebook goes public: Zuckerberg in Public Parts & WWGD?

Relevant to the expected Facebook IPO announcement, here are excerpts from my interview with Mark Zuckerberg for Public Parts.

* * *

“I’m in the first generation of people who really grew up with the internet,” Zuckerberg tells me. “Google came out when I was in middle school. Then there was Amazon and Wikipedia and iTunes and Napster. Each year, there were new ways to access information. Now you can look up anything you want. Now you can get cool reference material. Now you can download any song you want. Now you can get directions to anything. The world kept on getting better and better.”

In his words, we hear the inherent optimism that fuels the likes of him: that with the right tools and power in the right hands, the world will keep getting better. “On balance, making the world more open is good,” Zuckerberg says. “Our mission is to make the world more open and connected.” The optimist has to believe in his fellow man, in empowering him more than protecting against him. Zuckerberg believes he is helping us share, which will make the world more public and lead to greater transparency and trust, accountability and integrity. That, he says, is why he started Facebook—not, as The Social Network would have us believe, to get a girlfriend (he already had one, the same woman he still dates, Priscilla Chan) and not, as others say, because he is trying to force us into the public. He contends he is creating the tools that help people do what they naturally want to do but couldn’t do before. In his view, he’s not changing human nature. He’s enabling it.

“In the world before the internet and things like Facebook,” he says, “there was a huge amount of privacy through obscurity.” We didn’t have the choice and power we have now: “We had this culture where you were either a producer or a consumer.?.?.?.??It was a very bifurcated society—kind of unnatural.” That is, the tools of publicness, including the media, had been in the hands of the few; now they are in the hands of all. “So now the question isn’t, ‘Are you completely private?’ It’s, ‘Which things do you want to share and which things do you not?’?”

Zuckerberg says he wants to give his users control over what’s public and private. If that’s true, why does he keep getting in trouble regarding privacy? A few reasons: Some people complain that there aren’t enough privacy controls on Facebook. So the company adds controls. But then the complaint becomes that the controls are too complicated. When they are so complicated, users tend not to bother to adjust them and instead rely on Facebook’s default settings. Facebook has surprised its users with changes to those defaults, making them ever-more public—thus making its users more public, often whether they know it or not. And Facebook hasn’t been good at communicating with its users. When I tell Zuckerberg my thesis for this book about the benefits of sharing, he admits, “I hope you have better luck than we’ve had making that argument. I think we’re good at building products that hit the desire people have, not necessarily at expressing in English what the desire is.” Some would call that understatement. . . . .

In their efforts to motivate us to share, Facebook, Google, and other net services have a common, technohuman goal: to intuit our intent. They want to gather signals about us so they can tailor their content, services, and advertising to us. These services compete to find more ways to get us to generate signals—our locations, needs, tastes, relationships, ­histories—so they can recommend, say, the perfect restaurant for each of us, knowing where we are right now and what we like and who our friends are and what they like (and making money by giving us a well-targeted coupon for the establishment). These services come into conflict with privacy advocates because capturing and analyzing our signals to predict our desires can look to some like spying or mind reading. “How did you know I was going to France?” the skittish user wonders of Google. Likely because you searched for Paris, sir.

Zuckerberg believes that by giving you back information about your own life—your friends and what you and they like and do—you’ll get “a much clearer sense of what’s going on around you, allowing you to learn things you couldn’t otherwise—and just be better at being human.” The hubris is impressive: making better humans. Google merely wants to organize our information. Zuckerberg sees Facebook as a next step in the net’s evolutionary scale toward humanity. “They crawl the web,” he says. “But there’s nothing you can crawl to get information about people. It’s all in our minds. So in order to have that service, you need to build the tools that let people share.” He identifies what he contends is another difference between Facebook and its predecessors: “All the information that’s about you on Facebook, you chose to put there. The last wave of sites before that do not work that way.” Ad networks collect information about you from your behavior—in most cases anonymously—so they can target ads, but the process is opaque. “On Facebook, you get an ad about Green Day because you said you like Green Day.?.?.?.??I think these models where people have more control over stuff are going to be so much more powerful and expressive.” As he talks, I come to think of Google as the third-person web; it’s about others—them. Facebook endeavors to be the first-person web; it’s about me and us.

Zuckerberg has created an asset worth billions of dollars. Wall Street laughed—but the Valley didn’t—when Microsoft invested in Facebook in 2007 at a reported $15 billion valuation. By 2011, pundits pegged the value at $20 billion, $50 billion, even $100 billion. I believe he’s building something even bigger, with data as a new currency: We trade information about ourselves for information about what we want. Our reward is relevance. Zuckerberg disagrees with me, saying my thinking is not “the right frame.?.?.?.??I really think it’s more interaction-for-interaction than data-for-data.” Keeping users’ motives in mind is critical. Early location services—Google Latitude and Loopt—asked you to broadcast your location to the world without much reason to do so (and with some good reasons not to). Later services such as Foursquare and Facebook Places let you alert friends where you are so you can meet up. You interact with Facebook, telling it what you are up to, and in return you interact with friends. Interactions-for-interactions.

Zuckerberg contends that Facebook is not just a technology company but also a sociology company. I find that revealing. He’s not so much an engineer—he majored in both computer science and psychology—as he is a social engineer, building systems for humans, helping us do what we want to do?.?.?.??and what he wants us to do. Take Facebook friend lists. No one wants to sit down and make a list of friends. People say they want to—in Zuckerberg’s words—“subgroup their friends.” But in practice, who wants to bother? I have tried to subgroup contacts in my address book—fellow geeks here, journalism colleagues there, family here—but it’s tedious and I quickly give up. When you friend someone on Facebook and they friend you back, you end up with a list of your friends as a by?product. The reason you do it, Zuckerberg says, is because “it’s like a cool handshake. And then it’s the sum of 10 billion of those.” Once unlocked from their privacy, these small acts of publicness add up. “Some people just assume that being private is good,” Zuckerberg says, “whereas we’ve always come out saying no, no, people want to share some things and keep some things private and that’ll always be true. And as time goes on and more people find that it’s valuable to share things, they might share more things.” That is how he designs his systems, to make it fun and beneficial to share more and more.

Zuckerberg has his own, social version of Moore’s law—I call it Zuck’s law, though he doesn’t. It decrees: This year, people will share twice as much information as they did last year, and next year, they will share twice as much again. Facebook will expand to more users—from 750 million today to a billion soon?—and users will expand their sharing. Meanwhile, one Facebook investor, Yuri Milner, tells me that advances in artificial intelligence will get better and better at understanding and making use of all the service’s data. It has only just begun. “The default in society today still is, OK, I should not share it. The by?far default today is that everything’s anonymous,” Zuckerberg laments. “In the future, things should be tied to your identity, and they’ll be more valuable that way.” There is the master plan.

* * *

And here is a snippet from What Would Google Do? about Zuckerberg:

I sat, dumbfounded, in an audience of executives at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum International Media Council in Davos, Switzerland, as the head of a powerful news organization begged young Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, for his secret. Please, the publisher beseeched him, how can my publication start a community like yours? We should own a community, shouldn’t we? Tell us how.
Zuckerberg, 22 at the time, is a geek of few words. Some assume his laconicism is a sign of arrogance—that and his habit of wearing sandals at big business conferences. But it’s not. He’s shy. He’s direct. He’s a geek, and this is how geeks are. Better get used to it. When the geeks take over the world—and they will—a few blunt words and then a silent stare will become a societal norm. But Zuckerberg is brilliant and accomplished, and so his few words are worth waiting for.

After this publishing titan pleaded for advice about how to build his own community, Zuckerberg’s reply was, in full: “You can’t.”

Full stop. Hard stare.

He later offered more advice. He told the assembled media moguls that they were asking the wrong question. You don’t start communities, he said. Communities already exist. They’re already doing what they want to do. The question you should ask is how you can help them do that better.

His prescription: Bring them “elegant organization.”

Let that sip of rhetorical cabernet roll around on the palate for a minute. Elegant organization. When you think about it, that is precisely what Zuckerberg brought to Harvard—then other universities, then the rest of the world—with his social platform. Harvard’s community had been doing what it wanted to do for more than three centuries before Zuckerberg came along. He just helped them do it better. Facebook enabled people to organize their social networks—the social graph, he calls it: who they are, what they do, who they know, and, not unimportantly, what they look like. It was an instant hit because it met a need. It organized social life at Harvard.