Posts about sharing

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.

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

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:

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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.

Social is for sharing, not hiding

I fear we are on the verge of fetishizing privacy. Well, we’re not — but our media and government are.

Media’s assumptions

Yesterday I got a call from a journalist about Google+ and its Circles. He was not at all hostile to Google, Facebook, or social, but even so, implicit in his questions was a presumption that privacy is our highest priority in social services.

Think about that for half a minute and the absurdity of it becomes apparent. We don’t come to social services to hide secrets; that would be idiotic. We come to share.

The journalist said that people must be afraid of being public. Think about that for the rest of a minute: Media and government have held a monopoly on publicness as they have owned the megaphone and soapbox. Now the internet gives the rest of us the ability to be public and these long-public people think we are scared of what the have? How patronizing of them.

The meme about Google+ Circles is that it beats Facebook on privacy because it gives us upfront control over whom we share with. That’s true: Every time I share something I make a decision about whether to share it with the public or some of my circles. That is better, clearer, and easier than digging into Facebook’s settings once and for all to silo my world. It is better than not bothering to change those settings and depending on Facebook’s defaults, only to find them change and become more public. Google+ got to learn from Facebook and start with Circles to enable this difference.

Except I have watched my own behavior with Google+ lo, these 36 hours and I find at when I share with less than everyone it is not out of privacy or security needs. It’s out of relevance. I may have something to tell my TWiT colleagues or my fellow journowonks that would bore everyone else who follows me. So I restrict my audience not to keep a secret but to reduce noise for them, which I can’t do on Twitter or can’t easily do on Facebook. I am still sharing; it’s better sharing.

The journalist talked about Zuckerberg and Google wanting us to share — and they do because, as I’ve said, they depend on getting us to generate more signals about our interests, needs, and desires so they can gi e us more relevant, thus valuable content, services, and advertising. But in the journalist’s phrasing I heard him implying that Zuckerberg and Page were squeezing stuff out of like toothpaste tubes, against our wills.

Nonsense. As I say in Public Parts, 600 million people can’t be wrong. We are sharing a billion things a day on Facebook alone because we want to, because we find value in it. That’s where the discussion should begin, with the power of publicness, not with the presumption of privacy.

Government’s presumptions

I was delighted yesterday to see a senator — Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania — warn his colleagues against “breaking the internet.”

Some are in such a rush to regulate the net and protect what they and media think is our highest priority — privacy — that they threaten to both hamper how sites and services and operate and how they can sustain themselves.

Jay Rockefeller is pushing do-not-track. John Kerry and John McCain have a privacy bill. Al Franken has a bill to limit sharing of location data with third parties (those “third parties” are becoming the boogeymen of the digital age, though they are often just companies that serve ads, provide web services such as analytics, and sell us stuff).

I’m not suggesting that all this legislation is bad. We do need privacy protections. Sites must give us greater and clearer control over what we share to whom and why (as Google seems to have done with its Circles). Phones should not be storing information about what we do without our knowledge and without giving us control over it. Stipulated.

But I fear unintended consequences. Rockefeller’s do-not-track could pull the advertising rug out from under web sites, forcing some of them to go behind a pay wall — if they can — and killing other sites, reducing the content on the web. Franken’s location bill, I learned this week, does not have a carve out for sending data to ad-servers (they are dreaded “third parties”), which could kneecap the local-mobile content industry before it even starts.

Politicians and media companies are coming at these questions at the wrong starting line: as if we go to the internet to take a piece of private information and squirrel it away there. That’s not what we’re doing. We’re sharing.

: MORE: On Twitter, @hasanahmad complains that when sharing a photo with a circle members of that circle could share it in turn and then it becomes more public.

Yes, absolutely. That’s how life works. You tell a friend something. Then, as I say in Public Parts, the responsibility for what to do with that lies with that friend; what you’ve said is public to that extent and whether it becomes more public is a decision your friend will now make. It may be fine to share in turn; it may not be. You’d need to set those conditions with that friend before sharing. And if you don’t want the friend to share, maybe you shouldn’t share. The issue here isn’t technology. It’s people. No change there.

So I asked my Twitter interrogator what he proposes we do about this: Put license conditions on the photo we share? Sue the friend?

This is where Eric Schmidt is right. I’ll paraphrase him: If you want to hide something, the worst place to do that is on a social network. That’s where you share. Your brain is where you hide secrets.

: SEE ALSO: Jonathan Allen on sharing for purpose v privacy.

User economy v. consumer economy

I’m fascinated with the services that are popping up in Italy – and now, I see, in the U.S. – enabling people to rent instead of buy things and to rent out the things they have: to share, in short.

The Washington Post writes about Zilock.com, Rent-instead.com, Chegg.com for textbooks, and Babyplays.com for toys (well-sanitized, one hopes). Not to mention the ultimate in sharing things, Zipcar.

I take a tour around my house and it’s hard to come up with a long list of things I’d only want to rent and no longer need to buy – tools, mainly, because I’m a klutz and try to avoid all handyman chores (whenever I tell people who know me that I’m using a chainsaw, they shudder at the thought). But I can imagine things I might not buy but would want to rent: a great digital camera or video camera, for example.

So I don’t see this phenom as a major force in the economy. I think we’re more likely to see sharing brought to assets like office space and equipment. Still, it’s just one more case of innovation yielding efficiency instead of growth.

Here’s the Post on these services:

Zilock.com came about like this: In the fall of 2007, a couple of friends in France were trying to hang something up on a wall and didn’t have a drill. They thought about buying one but somehow calculated that a drill is used only an average of 12 minutes in a lifetime. It made no sense to buy one, they argued.

“We were thinking about all of the drills lying around the building or the block and we had no access to it. We thought there are so many ways you can sell your things online but no way to borrow things,” Boudier said.

The peer-to-peer renting Web site first launched in France and Belgium. Once it took off, the founders expanded to the United Kingdom and the United States. Boudier, who is the U.S. general manager, said there are now 100,000 items for rent just in America. Not only are there drills up for grabs but infant car seats, camping gear, and digital cameras. “We are offering new ways for people to save and make money,” he said.

Who wants to own content?

Distribution is not king.

Content is not king.

Conversation is the kingdom.

The war is over and the army that wasn’t even fighting — the army of all of us, the ones who weren’t in charge, the ones without the arms — won. The big guys who owned the big guns still don’t know it. But they lost.

In our media 2.0, web 2.0, post-media, post-scarcity, small-is-the-new-big, open-source, gift-economy world of the empowered and connected individual, the value is no longer in maintaining an exclusive hold on things. The value is no longer in owning content or distribution.

The value is in relationships. The value is in trust.

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I’m writing this post — grappling with perhaps the most fundamental truth of my brief blogging career — because I still hear big-media colleagues insisting — or perhaps they’re praying — that content is king, that owning content is where the value is, that equity will still grow from exclusivity.

But no: Content is transient, its value perishable, its chance of success slight. You think your article or book or movie or song or show is worth a fortune and in a blockbuster economy, if you were insanely lucky, you could be right. But now anyone can create content. And thanks to the power of the link — and the trust it carries — anyone can get the world to see it. Is some of this new load of content crap? Sure. Lots of content in the old media world was crap, too. But don’t calculate the proportions. Look instead at the gross volume of quality: There’s simply more good stuff out there than there could be before. And it can be created at incredibly low or no cost.

There is no scarcity of good stuff. And when there is no scarcity, the value of owning a once-scarce commodity diminishes and then disappears. In fact, it’s worse than that: Owning the content factory only means that you have higher costs than the next guy: You own the high-priced talent or infrastructure while your new competitor owns just her own talent and a PC.

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Distribution? It was already dethroned — though, again, the old barons of bandwidth don’t know it. Owning the printing press, broadcast tower, cable plant, movie theater, or chain of stores is a cost burden when your competitors and customers can, without friction, effort or cost, bypass your distribution and even your marketing. You thought you “owned the customer.” But all you owned was the bill they didn’t want to pay — that and assets that cost you money. It just doesn’t pay to own the assets anymore. Oh, yes, you can still milk cash from them. But can you get growth?

Over and over, I hear old-industry guys arguing that you have to own these assets because that’s where the equity is, that’s where Wall Street puts the value. But since when was following Wall Street a strategy?

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So where is the value now? Is there value now? Of course, there is. The value is — thank you, Cluetrain — in the conversation, in the relationship. The value is in trust.

This is so hard for those of us trained in the old economy to get our heads around. That is why, like an ape on 2001, I keep poking at this obelisk to figure out what it is.

But in this new age, you don’t want to own the content or the pipe that delivers it. You want to participate in what people want to do on their own. You don’t want to extract value. You want to add value. You don’t want to build walls or fences or gardens to keep people from doing what they want to do without you. You want to enable them to do it. You want to join in.

And once you get your head around that, you will see that you can grow so much bigger so much faster with so much less cost and risk.

So don’t own the content. Help people make and find and remake and recommend and save the content they want. Don’t own the distribution. Gain the trust of the people to help them use whatever distribution and medium they like to find what they want.

In these new economics, you want to stand back and interfere and restrict as little as possible. You want to reduce costs to the minimum. You want to join in wherever you are welcome.

So in the content world, it is better help enable and be part of fluid networks of content than it is to create and own content (see: open-source ad networks, specialized search, remixing tools, sharing communities). It is better to find new efficiencies than new blockbusters (see: Lulu.com, the Redhat founder’s new on-demand book publishing enterprise). It is better to gather than create (see: hyperlocal citizens’ media vs. big, old, expensive, exclusionary newsrooms). It is better to share trust than to horde it.

In this model, newspapers have a problem: They want to control information and the means of sharing rather than enabling that sharing. Book publishers are inefficient as hell: They have to guess what the audience wants rather than helping questioners find answerers. Entertainment producers are doomed to support extravagant costs: They have raised the bar to success beyond their own reach. Cable companies and broadcasters are lost: They have no idea how to serve people, only masses. Marketers and their agencies are befuddled: They have evolved into beasts without ears. And — here’s my favorite — AOL has it utterly, completely, spectacularly wrong: It wanted to control content and distribution and controlled nothing at all.

I like to think that I live and work at the intersection of big, old media and small, new unmedia. But I may be wrong. I sometimes wonder whether there is an intersection after all. I hope there is. But I’m still looking for its exact coordinates. I wonder whether they are compatible, because their business models and worldviews and DNA are just so different. It’s hard for somone raised on the value of owning content and owning distribution to let go of exclusivity and instead value openness and participation.

If I have to pick sides, you can guess what side I pick: small, not big; open, not closed; shared, not owned; enabled, not excluded.

Yet once you think about it, this isn’t so new, really: Isn’t journalism supposed to be about building trust (so how did it become so untrusted?)? Aren’t brands supposed to be about communicating trust (so how did so many of them become so untrustworthy?)?

In the end, isn’t the only asset worth owning trust?

Content is not king.

Distribution is not king.

Trust is king in the kingdom of conversation.

Wikis arrive

At Barcamp, Ross Mayfield shows off the way wikis are supposed to be: Wikiwyg. Give it a try. [via TechCrunch]