The benefits of publicness

I’m reworking an early but foundational section of my book, Public Parts, arguing the benefits of publicness, a list I presented at the PII conference in Seattle a few weeks ago. I’d like to bounce my thoughts off you and ask for your views of the value you get from being public, the value that also accrues to groups, companies, government, and society as a whole. I won’t go into great detail in this list because I’m eager to hear your thoughts. Here’s my opening bid:

* Publicness makes and improves relationships. To make connections with people, you need to be open and share. When you decide not to be public, you risk losing that connection.

* Publicness enables collaboration. That’s the beta lesson: When you open up your process, you invite people to help you improve what you’re doing. It is also, of course, the lesson of open-source.

* Publicness builds trust. Secrecy doesn’t.

* Publicness kills the myth of perfection. That is, when we open our process, we are showing our faults and are no longer held at every moment to the myth of perfection that has come to rule our industrial-age processes.

* Publicness disarms taboos. Publicness was the daring weapon gays and lesbians used to tear down their closets. I’m not saying that people should be forced out of their closets; that is their choice. But I am saying that when they do, it faces down the bigots who made homosexuality a taboo; it disarms them.

* Publicness grants immortality. (Note to Andrew Keen: That’s a joke.) Publicness at least grants credit and provides provenance for ideas and creation.

* Publicness enables the wisdom of the crowd. If we all keep our information, knowledge, ideas, and lessons to ourselves, we lose collectively.

* Publicness organizes us. Cue Clay Shirky. Speaking and assembling go hand-in-hand as rights. When we stand up and say who we are, we can find others like us and do things together.

* Publicness protects. This will be controversial but the knowledge that one’s actions could be public have an impact. That’s why I’m not against cameras on Times Square to thwart the next bomber.

* Publicness is value. This is an argument I’ll make that what’s public is owned by the public — whether that’s governments’ actions or images taken in public space — and whenever that is diminished, it robs from us, the public.

Mind you, this is not the chapter about privacy. I am addressing the value — and, a greater challenge, the definition — of privacy elsewhere.

Here I’m interested in hearing why you are public when you are and what you get out of it. I’d like to hear what else you would like people, companies, and governments to make public and how that would bring benefit.


  • Publicness for me has a lot to do with sharing knowledge. Within the last year this has proved to be a successful strategy for me as a freelance journalist. By putting the slides and notes from my workshops and keynotes up for grabs on my blog I’m assembling public showcases. Has someone “stolen” my slides, used them without giving me credit? Maybe. I don’t know. But I’m convinced that I’m getting more than I’m giving. I get better assignments than ever before.

    • Reading your post made me think of a lot of the competitive BBQ shows I’ve seen on tv lately. All the pit masters carefully guard their recipes and techniques. It gets kind of annoying after a while. The value to me is not in the ingredients, it is in the preparation and presentation. We all can have access to the same ingredients, but where we can leave our mark and make our distinction is in how we can put them together to make something. If I was told what ingredients a world champion pit master used for their bbq, i doubt i could replicate it. I’m sure I could learn from it though. Maybe I could come up with something different and not detract or harm the originator of the information at all. They likewise, may learn something or be inspired from my discoveries. We can all grow.

    • Andy Freeman

      > Reading your post made me think of a lot of the competitive BBQ shows I’ve seen on tv lately. All the pit masters carefully guard their recipes and techniques. It gets kind of annoying after a while. The value to me is not in the ingredients, it is in the preparation and presentation.

      I’ve been hanging around a bunch of CA wine makers recently. They’ll tell you, and their competitors, anything and everything about their process. Why? Because they know that no one is going to copy exactly, they’ll all tweak something, and besides, they’re all working with different grapes and other inputs, so even if you do try to copy, you can’t. (The only way to get the same output from different wineries is to use different processes.)

  • Our reputation precedes us but we don’t own our reputations. Reputations are made and unmade in public – and increasingly online.

    • Maureen Sisamo Schipper

      We may not own our reputations but we have sole power to build it, maintain it, correct it and let it ripple beyond ourselves and forever by always acting publicly. Any blemish on our reputation that is not our own fault tends to be attached to our own efforts in secret by those who cannot or will not accept our public presence.

  • Imanol

    Publicness makes us humans. As we have a social instinct we feel in touch with our core values when we share knowledge, time, a certain task or just some idea. Human means social

  • Being in the public has helped increase efficiency of communication for me. Just this morning, the community theater my wife belongs to had an emergency with a member that was going to impact today’s performance. By the member being public on FB and people allowing themselves to be reachable outside of traditional telephony we were able to have the situation resolved in 15 minutes that may have taken hours otherwise. Being in the public allows you to tap the resources of your whole network to solve your problems in an efficient manner. The problem would have been resolved without publicness, but it would have been less efficient and more stress inducing.

  • Because of just what your doing right here. The better we know each of the better we’ll live together. The Internet can do that for us. And I’m doing my part & so R you. U much more than I, of course.
    And thank you for what your doing,
    D Let’s,

  • Rob

    When I started blogging in 2002 I discovered something new as I put my life out in public and I found others who did the same – that in my 50’s I began to make the kind of friends again that I had last made as an undergraduate.

    It was being able to witness another life and vice versa that created the trust and the knowledge that this person would make a wonderful friend. Then we woud meet and I have never been disappointed – a bit like pillow talk before meeting.

    Living in public like this then has enabled friendships based on who I really am not on what people hope for or some facade. This helps of course keep me grounded in a network of friends and also has helped me professionally too – most of my work in the last 8 years has involved this group. And what work too! Doing the right things with the right people in the right way.

    How could this happen if all my cards were face down?

  • rafaelcubi

    Publicness for me has a lot to do with improve the culture- improving our world .To participate in our lives without intermediaries. Its also a way to be improve freedom.

  • John M Fecko

    Publicness forces companies to behave. When corporate America does something good, they have their entire PR department available to tell us about it. When corporate America does something bad, they use their legal department to try to keep us from finding out about it.

    Public vs Private is like an Angel sitting on one shoulder and a Devil sitting on the other. The fact that everyone will know about an action means that the action must be defensible in the public eye. Many corporate practices are not defensible, forcing the companies to listen to their little Devil and hide it.

  • As paradox it may sound: publicness is the first and essential step into a post-individual aera. As good and helpfull our individualistic culture and it’s belief into the (closed!) uniqueness was, we will only be able to cope with the challenges of the future with a more connected intelligence of a post-individualistic (think-)culture. Publicness is the key to make this intelligence with it’s connectness possible.

    • Maureen Sisamo Schipper

      Not paradox at all: I think you have hit on a key point about our emerging new social and cultural heritage: think-and-share era. But I will say that the glorification of ‘me, me, me’ culture (of which I am also a member) in our current social networks is not always conducive to inter-connectedness. The use of appropriate language and coding our ‘me’ messages to be there for a wider community is important and I belief highly-skilled. Which then begs the question: who is inside publicness?

  • Going public is scary!

    I’ve recently started a blog where I’m chronicling my journey as an Internet start-up. If I fail ill fail in a very public and humiliating way. I’m doing this because I hope other entrepreneurs will be able to share their experience and the log of my journey will provide insight for others travelling the same road. Shared knowledge is power ;-)

    It’s time to get on the clue train, there’s a conversation happening out there and I want to be part of it.

    I’m going for complete transparency, but exposing ones soul is not a easy thing to do. I was brought up not to “air my dirty laundry in public”. Perhaps this is why many refuse to engage in openness. I’m personally persuaded to open up because I believe as humans we recognise the difference between a genuine human voice and a carefully guarded/controlled sales message.

    My next post is about how reading a book called “What Would Google Do” radically changed the direction of my business. In fact I’m so convinced in the new direction that I’m selling my house to finance it. If I fail I’m going to blame you Jarvis ;-)

    (only joking I’m a big boy I know what I’m doing)

  • I’m public in a lot of ways, but what I’d like to discuss here is my publicness about my mental health issues. I’m a 38 year old gay man, and I have Bipolar II disorder that leans more towards the depressive end of the spectrum. I’ve been using the internet for a long time (I used to hang out in the #suicide chat room on dalnet in the early 90’s, and I was active on Usenet in the late 80’s). I grew up in a very rural area (and still live in one), so the internet was my only connection to other people with mental illness, and more specifically, gay men and women with mental illness. At the time, I hadn’t been officially diagnosed (that took several years and several hospitalizations), but I found comfort in other people’s stories.

    As I grew older, I started to realize how much it angered me that people with mental illness had to hide. There is still a large stigma attached to mental illness (though it is certainly less stigmatizing than it used to be). Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder in particular are still extremely stigmatized. I talk about my symptoms and my disorder on twitter and on facebook (ie, in “public” and in “my public”) in varying degrees of specificity (depending on which public I’m addressing) in order to say “I’ve had enough of stigma. I choose to speak about who I am. I’m a gay man with bipolar disorder. This is who I am.”

    If you’re looking for more detail, I’m happy to provide it. Just contact me on twitter (dogboi) or by email and I’ll give you whatever info you want. I’m seriously invested in the idea of publicness.

    I hope I didn’t go on too long, and I hope this is what you’re looking for Jeff. I have to say, since I have this opportunity, I’m looking forward to the book, and my partner and I both enjoy listening to you , Leo and Gina on TWiG every week.

  • Publicness deals a blow to the secrecy and mythology about what goes on in families and other social groups. It chips away (sometimes rips away ) at the pernicious shame and inferiority that people feel when they imagine that their family doesn’t live up to some ideal. It reveals the truth and complexity and human flaws that are actually the foundation of many of our relationships.

    Publicness helps us relax into the kind of real security you only feel when you’re living the truth.

    June Cleaver was never public about anything. And some people like me spent much too much time wondering why my wonderful, but eminently imperfect, family didn’t have a mother who had a pitcher of milk waiting on the table when I got home. My mom was, and is, wonderful. But growing up in the era of illusion and secrecy, when to be fully public was virtually an act of social treason, kids like me had no context in which we could understand that our imperfectness was actually a paragon of normalcy.

    In a culture of publicness, June Cleaver would have spoken openly about her addiction to pain killers, Ward would’ve admitted that his marriage had had its ups and downs, and Beaver might have even written a memoir about his struggle with OCD.

    A lot of well-intentioned people dismiss all this revelation and publicness as TMI (too much information), and I, like everyone else, hope one day to wake up and read nothing about Lindsay Lohan.

    But for all our moaning about this, true publicness would give us the gift of a world in which – when our kid deals with a drug problem or our parents have marital problems — we would see ourselves as simply part of the complex, diverse human parade and not the only freaks on the block.

  • You could turn this first chapter into a book all by itself. Witness the excellent work of Heather Brooke, who’s done a world of good in making otherwise secret data publicly available. See

    Ian W.

  • Kathy Sierra

    Publicness increases the opportunity for education. I get to learn more, and I get to teach more. Both important for me both professionally and personally in all aspects of my life: work, hobby, home/health.

    That said, I am not sure I agree on these two points from your list:

    “Publicness makes and improves relationships. To make connections with people, you need to be open and share.”

    I realize that this is the assumption, but is it really certain that this is a net gain? You might make a “connection” with someone you’d otherwise not have interacted with, but I’m not sure it “improves relationships” the more you are open and share. I’d argue there may be just as many instances where relationships are harmed as a result of openness and sharing, though we rarely hear about these situations because people aren’t out there *sharing that*. I’m basing this purely on anecdotal evidence, though.

    The other one I’m concerned about is:

    “Publicness enables the wisdom of the crowd. If we all keep our information, knowledge, ideas, and lessons to ourselves, we lose collectively.”

    I don’t disagree that it enables the wisdom of the crowd, etc. My problem is with the *implicit* assumption that this is itself A VALUABLE BENEFIT. The author of “Wisdom of Crowds” has argued persuasively that what we consider wisdom of crowds is often dead wrong, and that what we enable is people becoming *dumber*, not smarter, as a result of too much interaction and collaboration. In other words, the studies he reports show that the more people are open and sharing, in many cases, the worse the “wisdom” becomes. Too much info from one another taints the otherwise intelligent input of a collection of individuals.

    There’s evidence that too much information/input also takes a cognitive toll on our ability to make decisions and even think rationally. So it is not always a net gain to get more input from “the crowd”, even a relatively small one.

    But I agree with all your other benefits, including some that have downsides you did not mention, but since you do have a separate privacy chapter, I’ll wait on those.

    For me personally, who does not *like* publicness and sharing, I still feel it’s worth it for the educational value. For businesses and governments, I believe most forms of transparency are necessary from them to protect *us*. But of course secrecy has a place in some areas, like Apple’s decision to try to keep their plans secret. The rush to open transparency should not also sweep away one of the biggest turn-ons for the brain: mystery. (but that’s a baby/bathwater issue and does not in any way mean we shouldn’t push for greater transparency where it matters).

    I, too, have used public sharing as a means to get crucial health info I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten… in my case, a potentially life-threatening neurological condition I’ve had my entire life. Scores of neurologists and every book and resource I could find were not nearly as helpful as a few comments from people who knew *exactly* what was happening and had experienced the same issues. So, I get it. But I still feel a little creeped out by the *pressure* to be open, personally.

    • That may be because you had such a bad experience being public. For me, being public has so far had no down sides. From a health information perspective, I think being public is crucial, because in the current health care environment we are forced to crowd source our health information. I work a lot with Health 2.0 companies, and lives have been saved by this kind of sharing.

      Politically, being public does expose us to the haters. But I find meeting the friends and learning how other people look at the world is far more meaningful than living in fear.

      Socially, being public fills a big need for me. I have been widowed for thirteen years, and although I am very busy, when I finally get home I am ultimately one human with two dogs. So the communication in my online life is essential to me.

      I try, in my being public, to put out what I hope to get back, and that’s almost always the case. If I lead with my heart, someone else responds with theirs.
      Wow. This is hard to express.

  • Susan Wilhite

    Publicness seems like an embraceable new value. Yet some view too much exposed information as a personal threat. I’ve found this to particularly among people who have learned from their past generations that there is safety in keeping one’s head down and “minding my own business”. Oppressed groups are key examples. Ethnicity, sexual orientation, and of course low social status formed tight communities outside which details were not shared.

    The boundaries may seem to have fallen away but often the caution remains. These people may be tech enthusiasts for their covenience, especially in doing business. But they’re wary of social media. No profiles and no spilling opinions.

    Contemporary benefits of transparency will not be easily demonstrated to such people. Indeed, we may eventually see from them a different, legitimate publicness aesthetic for social media.

  • This is a corollary to Fecko and Probert above and could be viewed as the opposite of your take on safety in the post, but publicness instills ACCOUNTABILITY to the individual or group that is sharing—in a good way. Maybe I should call it self-accountability.

    As with your blogging about your book, by putting it all out on the line for us to critique, you are assuring that you are actually going to do the job and do it well. By making processes public, we build expectations which reflect back on our own ambition, creativity and drive.

    Now excuse me, I have to go write the first chapter of my own book before my wife and all my “friends” kick my ass.

    • Regarding accountability, this is a tricky one.

      As a cathartic exercise I one blogged about having a vasectomy: It felt good to be open, until one day I received an email from someone thanking me for my post. The email went on to explain that he had taken my advice and “followed suit”. I was very uncomfortable with this. Relationships change, god knows what the future held for this guy. The idea of him one day realising that he couldn’t give his second wife a child and it was my fault was troubling.

      Hey Jeff, if I loose my house because I followed your advice outlined in WWGD, how are you going to feel? See for more info. I am of course joking, I am the master of my own destiny; but it does raise an interesting point.

  • I especially like the first two on the list: improving relationships and collaboration. I teach college English students about technical writing and I’ve written here ( about the need for a public face to what can be a very private and internal process. I’m also trying to help my industrial clients understand how publicness builds trust–but it’s a hard sell.

  • Mike Hunter

    Steve Gorelick make a good point about the Cleavers. There was never anything public about them. During that time the censors were particularly sensitive. You may recall the episode where the Beaver stole something at school and confessed only o get a stern reprimand from his father. The next morning June said, “Ward, you were awfully hard on the Beaver last night”, and of course the censors had to step in….a great moment in television!

  • I work in higher education for Grand Rapids Community College and fortunately as a public institution we’re bound to both the Open Meetings Act and Freedom of Information Act. Both obligations remove the temptation to act in secret.

    One of the major benefits of being public (to the extent of publishing our daily employee newsletter, and even posting video internal dialogues between the college leadership and employees on Youtube) is that it reduces the confusion for the journalists that cover us. A delayed or measured response has, in the past, given the impression that a sensational story exists – which (as you noted – reduces trust) can prompt investigation to uncover the nonexistent scoop.

    Another benefit with respect to media relations is that the local news media cover angles we never would have thought to pitch them (and thus far all have been positive for the college).

    Viva publicness!

  • The publicness that the Internet now allows people to have is mistakenly believed to mean trying to get the broadest possible audience. But in effect people are trying to reach like-minded people, in order to belong to a community. There has been a tremendous increase in the amount of material that is available to the public, not really intended for the public, but instead for the emerging communities.

    Online communication has challenged our ideas of what a community can be. Social media allow people to relate to groups of people who live beyond the borders of location and time in the very same way that print once allowed information to be free from the constraints of location.

    Social media thus redefine what local interaction is and remove the constraints we earlier had on community building.

    The view of online as a separate space, a “virtual” space or “cyberspace” is an unfortunate example of a misleading metaphor that makes it hard to understand what is going on today. Our social media tools are no more alternatives to real life than books; they are very much part of it – making life more meaningful.

  • Nic Fulton

    Publicness is admitting to your biases and by doing so becoming less bias overall.

  • “That’s why I’m not against cameras on Times Square to thwart the next bomber. ”

    Good arguments until i read that one! This really disappoints me.
    This is exactly the argument some political institution would use to push the public observation. London shows us the worst case of this scenario. And did the cameras lower the crime rates?!
    Isn’t the Time Square already a public place even without cameras owned by some SECRET / CLOSED whatever authority!?
    And do they really produce a feeling of “healthy” publicity or is it just suspicion and fear!?

  • Publicness is safer – the less stuff you keep secret, the lower the chance you’ll have a security breach.

    Publicness is simpler – coworkers don’t have to remember what information not to share.

    Publicness is cheaper – because it’s simpler and safer.

  • @mauprieto

    Publicness could increase the rate of accomplishment of initiatives and objectives. By publicly declaring that you will do X or Y, you are also effectively making some public commitment to it. If you keep it private, not doing it is easier.

    Publicness also makes you think better about what you are stating. It forces to think better about your positions and arguments.

  • I’m confused. :-)

    As you explore the meaning of publicness by listing out these characteristics, it seems you’re really talking about communication. You could substitute “communication” for “publicness” in all cases and it would have the same meaning. So it seems like you’re saying “publicness” means “communication” (or even another word you love “transparency”). The key characteristic of what you’re describing as I see it is that the communication takes place on the web to a broad, unspecified (anonymous) audience.

    Questions Professor Jarvis probably won’t answer:

    1) how is “publicness” different from communication? (is it just a style of communication via the web?)

    2) what are some examples of the benefits of publicness that don’t involve the web? (or is your concept of publicness confined to the web?)

    • …come to think of it, your exciting, new concept of “publicness” would more accurately be described as just “public communication.”

      Why not just call it that?

    • Eric,
      You make the same points and with hostility. Stop.
      I don’t think it’s just communication. It is also about transparency and opening one’s process and methods and information.
      Read the book.

    • Jeff,

      Before I engage in “stopness,” I really think you shouldn’t be so evasive.

      If you say it’s more than just communication. Please explain it. I’m sorry if you think there’s hostility in my questions.

      I honestly don’t see anything above that hasn’t already been said about communication. You’re writing an entire book about a concept that you say is very important and has benefits, but it looks like you’re talking about communication really. In what way is communication not really at the heart of what you like to call “publicness”?

      Also, I was asking if the benefits of “publicness” have to do specifically with social media on the web or if it goes back in history pre-web.

      Regardless of whether or not you think I’m a jerk or attacking you, these are legitimate questions that you should in good conscience answer.

      Also, you say this act of “publicness” will help you in writing your book, but it seems you really only want to hear the fan mail. What about the criticism. That should be very valuable too.

      • Oh, Eric, enough. You always start accusing me of something even before I’ve said anything. It’s not to the point. It’s wearing. I have other things to do. Yes, I think you’re a jerk. Not evasive, is that?
        I don’t want fan mail. I want people who will discuss the ideas with civility. I’ve told you again and again and again to leave the insults aside. Now you did, indeed, discuss the issues more but it hard for me to wade through the insult. And not worth it.

    • Eric Gauvin

      So ironic that you shout “Publicness is great! Publicness is great!” and then if anybody asks, “hmm… what’s publicness??” You refuse to explain it in detail.

      You’re just rehashing a lot of old ideas that have long been said about communication.

      • Eric, it’s not the question I object to — I’m writing a whole damned book examining the question — it is the way you ask it, turning every interaction into accusation. Got it? Once and for all? Enough.

    • Eric Gauvin

      Toto just ate another one of your hot dogs…

  • Laid Off Too

    Publicness is raising awareness. When I found out my daughter had CF (cystic fibrosis, a life shortening illness), I kept it to myself for a few weeks. When I did finally let others know, it resulted in over $300,000 raised in 10 years by amateur fundraisers. Not only did others become familiar with my daughter’s plight (and thousands of others), but it was very uplifting to everyone to know something was being done.

    As to Mr Gauvin’s “public communication” comment, does doing something out in the open just so people can see it without necessarily saying what it is qualify as publicness, but not public communication? Does seeing cleaner streets, fewer homeless, smiling faces, etc qualify as publicness but not public communication? Do these examples answer both of Mr Gauvin’s questions? Just curious.

    • Eric Gauvin

      That’s interesting, but I don’t think it answers my questions. I think those things could just be considered public (programs, activities, deeds). But I don’t think this is what Jarvis is mainly talking about.

      I think we have to be clear that Jarvis is proposing a new-fangled web centric concept which he calls “publicness” (largely defined as being in opposition to privacy).

      I’d really question whether or not there is any great value in trying to coin new words or concepts in this case when exisiting words like communication are probably more accurate.

    • Eric Gauvin

      Sorry to be so nit-picky, but I guess I could say I just think the word “publicness” is contrived, unclear and cumbersome. It’s not worth all this fuss. I think “public” as an adjective is much more accurate in most cases. By using the noun form it becomes a concept, which is worth examining — but still an odd use of the word in my opinion. Furthermore, as I’ve said, I think Jarvis has practical examples of what he is selling as this new thing called “publicness” which are really mainly familiar things like “communication” but that have
      “public” as a characteristic.

      • Laid Off Too

        You could very well be correct Mr Gauvin. May I suggest the word ‘publicness’ be used as a measurement? As in what is the publicness of Google or the US Government?

  • Publicness, within the principles presented, is essential to the future of democracy and the ability of individuals to spark change and protect liberty. But it must apply to all facets of our society. Government and corporations in many ways are using publicness as a one way street. They can using publicness to find out more about individuals or consumers, but access they other way keeps have to overcome limits under broad applications of national security or patent rights. It’s not that real issues of national security or patent protections don’t exist, it’s that real publicness gets diminished by inconsistent or intentional misapplication of the the principles behind it.

  • Brown Bourne

    There are two types of publicness. Mutual publicness is when everyone in a system of power relationships are equally exposed. Big institutions have the same level of transparency as the individual. That’s a recipe for progress. No one throws stones because very house is made of glass.

    However, unilateral publicness is only useful when the most powerful actor in any given set of relationships is the transparent one. Powerful organizations should operate according to verifiable rules if they are going to serve individuals. If the opposite holds true, and the only visible entities are the people at the bottom of the power structure, I think most of the benefits you mention here dissipate.

  • I think the most important cost of publicness is not in the loss of privacy** but in the joining of a new type of knowledge to extant power. To make the point stick, I’d have to draw a strong analogy about the location and value of information from the very specific case of the market to the very general case of publicness. Because generalizations are generally weak arguments, I’ll leave it to the reader to extract her own thoughts from the material in which I found mine:


    Pressing areas where I think greater exchange of information can have the biggest benefits (if they’re not already on the list):
    * honor challenges – to call someone out with the hope of proving one’s own superiority (worked out better for David than Goliath)
    * commerce – what we might call “product journalism” – finding out the who/what/where/when/how of things people buy – because buying well requires better info than prices alone provide
    * science – open source projects enrich everyone; why not open journals?
    * law – unlimited access to the law and its interpretations [1] [2]

    **(Incidentally, I think people who gripe about privacy on all their friends’ Facebook walls are usually expressing fear of extant power rather than a preference for secrecy.)

  • CLang

    I like the IDEA of publicness, but only within NARROW channels of interaction:
    * You don’t discuss porn while at a White House dinner.
    * You also don’t talk politics while getting a lap dance.

    Thus, I’ve tried to keep my professional life separate from my personal life. Still, it’s the professional work I gain from poker buddies that’s held up longest, and my personal interactions with other clients that’s made the work worth while. Maybe I’ve just been lucky so far…

  • I`m a teacher in Germany and have a (creative commons) website since 1994, where I publish my own texts and teaching materials to help teachers use films and computers in school. Several publishers read it and asked me to write articles for websites and printed journals. A few months ago I even finished two books, that can now be bought in every bookstore. In this way I can pay the cost for running the website and by going public with my work I also meet a lot of interesting people with whom I share the same passion for improving education. By the way, I translated your blog entry into German and published it in my own blog. It´s a great summary of reasons why more people (especially teachers) should go public in order to get suggestions for improvements as well as recognition for what they`ve done.

  • Back in May, your announcement of the title of your book, and review some of your own publicness about your battle with cancer, prompted me to go back into some of the academic literature about publicness and privacy, and integrate that with what you – and Steven Johnson – have shared in less academic forums, in a post on Preemptive Self-Disclosure: Still Unpacking Privacy for a Networked World.

    I won’t rehash the entire post here, but will include an excerpt to provide a specific example from my own life about the benefits I, my wife and others have derived through our publicness about her cancer battle:

    The primary motivation behind my own initial foray into preemptive disclosure of potentially private [health] matters – the first blog post I wrote about my wife’s anal cancer 5 years ago – was to reduce the overhead of sharing information about our progress – and periodic setbacks – with friends and family, going public so as to minimize the number of redundant emails and phone calls. However, it also created an unanticipated broader support group – which I’m sure is at least an order of magnitude smaller than Jeff Jarvis’ – through which we’ve received encouragement from not only family and friends, but also from intimate strangers. Another unanticipated effect is that by opening sharing our experience, we were able to provide support – or at least personal information about the experiences – to others … potentially far beyond those who have directly acknowledged that indirect support via comments and email. And we continue to receive gifts in the form of expressions of appreciation for our willingness to go public with what is, for many, very private matters.

  • Stan Hogan

    I just worry about too much publicness infringing on my privateness, which I value more. Also, pitting it against secrecy sounds fine and dandy until it gets personal.

  • I think that publicness is an inherent good.That’s why I work in public media, believe in public education, public libraries, public transportation, etc. Public means of by and for the people. I think of publicness as people-powered, just as “transparency is the new objectivity.” Going public means telling one’s truth despite the consequences. Still, I do think we are living in a time of TMI (too much information) about certain things and TMM (tell me more) about others. Gene Weingarten’s Washington Post column this weekend had some funny things to say about all the over-sharing on Facebook — lots of excretory functions and people complaining about being soooooo booooored. That’s a lot of crap (and certainly duller than dull. :-)

  • Publicness is a way to ensure equality in the work place too. Government is required to show how much money federal and state employees earn. Why not do this in the workplace too and become transparent. Let your employees know how much their co-workers are earning. If women and minorities are earning much less, they have the right to know why.

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  • ola hallberg

    I was really impressed and even felt a taste of happiness, reading your statements. They are good expressions of what I and others, working with communications, has pleaded for many a years. However, against publicness stands power (of any kind). And the worry of loosing it. And this is a disease I think we will always have to fight. Sorry about my English.

  • Hola
    Disculpa que escriba en castellano, no me expreso bien en inglés. He leído tu blog y creo que tienen mucha razón en los beneficios de lo público. Yo añadiré que lo público favorece la empatía (empathy) y por tanto favorece las relaciones encaminadas a encontrar la solidaridad y el bien común. Si te interesa conocer más sobre este tema te invito a que leas esto

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  • Publicness is also about consensus, about tapping into the general will, about floating ideas, concepts. About trialling initiatives, canvassing feedback. In that respect, the more cynical view might be that a more ‘open source’ approach equates with lack of individual rights, and to some extent it does raise issues to do with intellectual property and copyright. Remix culture has grappled with that one for a while now.

    Looking at its blue sky definition, publicness is about creative commons, it’s about real names rather than pseudonyms, it’s about breaking down the barriers and joining the dots whilst respecting the differences, it’s about connections, it’s about a desire for collaboration, synergy and alchemy, a declared selflessness for the benefit of all. At its centre is a desire to work together to see dreams come true (that’s both yours and mine), it’s about starting from a utopian viewpoint. The world needs more optimism right now. Publicness is a playground for nurturing creativity and innovation.

    It’s this sort of thinking that has inspired us and what we’re trying to do with a new community blueprint we’ve just set up called Pic-Nic Village.

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  • Joachim

    Jeff, this is an interesting piece from Michael Idinopulos, relating to more benefits of publicness: “The real paradigm shift in Web 2.0, I believe, is the blurring the line between publication and collaboration. In the old days, people collaborated in private. They talked to their friends and colleagues, wrote letters. Later they sent emails. All the real thinking happened in those private conversations. Eventually, once the key insights had been extracted, refined, and clarified, they published: books, articles, speeches, blast memos, etc.” –

    • Joachim,
      Thanks. I love that idea of blurring the line between publication and collaboration.

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  • Publicness is an emergent behavior that appears to be part of the evolution of civilization. Control and command models depended upon the control of a few to command the many. Public openness encourages all the qualities that empower freedom and support human creativity at its best. It is the bridge that has the potential to help us move forward and creatively engineer our survival to the extent we can control it.

  • There are many really good points. I do agree that publicness builds trust, it’s capable to kill the gossip and rumors in the embryo phase. Embracing publicness is like taking a proactive approach, rather than react when the secrets emerge to the surface.

  • Brian Wilson

    I don’t have time to read all of the comments, but I imagine they would be enlightening if I did. I hope I’m not repeating someone else. I communicate publicly for the network effects (Metcalfe’s Law). I say lots of things on Facebook, and I never lie or distort anything. I communicate publicly so that others might do the same, and then we all will experience benefits in the future that can’t be anticipated. Maybe, for instance, we will become a more empathetic society that can get over Red/Blue state dichotomies to realize politics (and life in general, really) is complex. I hope you get a chance to mention the Rally to Restore Sanity in your book (which I’m really looking forward to)!

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  • Jeff, I have just heard an interview with you on the radio and agree with your ideas. I have written about this myself, in my soon-to-be-published, non-fiction book FUTUREQUEST. Here is an excerpt:

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  • winston

    It’s an interesting concept. But the author living in a vacuum. The premise is basically true. (i.e., Coming out can be a net-positive.) But it does not take into consideration the real world. People are inherently self-absorbed and greedy. Mediums like Facebook and Twitter further those character flaws by encouraging them. No one needs to know each time we take a shit or have breakfast or view a pretty sunset. People do that because they want attention. They crave it.

    Parents now encourage that kind of behavior in their children and it’s making them dysfunctional in the real world. They walk down the street completely absorbed in their cell phones and expect everyone to get out of their way while they ignore the world around them. They expect cars to not hit them while being oblivious to the basic right-of-way tenants in society.

    Further, the medium is causing people to lose the ability to interact socially in person. It’s frightening to see four people sitting in a restaurant all interacting with other people on their cell phones while ignoring the people in front of them. It’s not only rude, it’s disrespectful. Why bother meeting in person if one is not going to be “public” with them?

    The last element he does not consider is greed. People are greedy. That drive for money, in our Capitalistic society, will get them to exploit others in a heartbeat, if they can. Corporations use the concept of “publicness” to make money. That’s the bottom line. They exploit people who don’t understand technology for their own personal gain.

    The political system in the US is ripe with greed and self-interest. It’s more important for politicians to get re-elected than do the work the people put them in office to do. Society is paying the price of this learned behavior. Facebook/Twitter/etc. are a propaganda tools for politicos to manipulate their constituency.

    So the concept of publicness is valuable to a point. But once it’s exploited for personal gain, it’s diluted to being seriously detrimental for the common good.

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  • Joseph William Dowling

    Just classifying it as a dichotomy between publicness and privacy oversimplifies the complexity of human interaction. Nothing wrong with discussing it, you make a lot of valid points.. You’re argument gets lost.. Not like its a choice of to share or not to share, it’s more nuanced than that within the web of methods of interaction society operates through.

  • winston

    Honestly, I interpreted the article to mean that Facebook is inherently a good thing because it allows people to express their views/opinions. I feel that may actually true about 1% of the time. The other 99% of its use is actually detrimental to society. It wastes vast amounts of time. It reduces overall productivity and it definitely contributes to unemployment. It probably even causes unemployment because people have been fired for using Facebook during the work day or for what they post on it.

    If one was to total up the “man hours” spent on Facebook in any given day it would be massive. So if that time/energy was redirected into something more beneficial to society (i.e., volunteering at a soup kitchen, rebuilding homes for victims of disasters, educating children, finding a job or better job, etc.) the world would continue to progress forward instead of stagnating. I believe we have been stagnating for far too long and its time to change that. (This note is my version publicness.)

    So intelligent, smartly crafted publicness is a good thing. Random, insubstantial, gossip is detrimental to society. And, there’s sure a lot more of the later than the former.

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