Identity: toward an internet publicity policy 7

Posted by josh Wed, 16 Mar 2005 06:03:00 GMT

If internet 1.0 was mostly about making the internet work for business, internet 2.0 seems to me to be more about making it work for people - and part of that shift means some tectonic changes in the relationships between individuals and the corporations that earn their custom. The Cluetrain told us this was coming: markets are conversations. So, I’m interested in adding to a conversation around the shift from privacy to publicity and hearing from you what you think about the idea of a “publicity policy” that helps inform users how sites like 43 Things operate.

A great example of the shift I’m thinking about can be seen in comparing the first generation photo sites (Ofoto, Snapfish, etc) vs. the second generation photo sites like Flickr or Fotolog. When Ofoto debuted, the experience was 95% commerce and 5% community. The focus was on ordering prints, with a secondary user experience that would let your friends and family see your photos online (and of course, order more prints). The site was built around private transactions - your photos and your credit card. The onus was on the company not to share your information with anyone you didn’t authorize and “privacy policies” became de rigeur on commercial sites.

Flickr stood the Ofoto model on its head. The site is organized around public displays of photos and the emergent community of enthusiasts who admire, congratulate and encourage each other. The site isn’t built around keeping your photos private (though the option is there) - it is built around helping you make them public - and in doing so, publicizing who you are and what you care about. Through the emergent interactions of tags, comments, profile pages and social networks, publicizing your photos can lead to finding other people who are sharing their photos and a meaningful sense of community can emerge. The first generation concern about safeguarding private transactions has largely been transformed into a second generation invitation to meet the neighbors.

This pattern can be seen all over Web 2.0. Is there a privacy concern at Meetup, Audioscrobbler or 43 Things - where people can actually meet you in the flesh, learn what you are listening to and even discover your personal goals? I don’t think any of these sites are about privacy - they are about publicity. They are about how when you disclose bits about your personality and interests, you can start to connect with others (in person or virtually) who share common experiences and interests. Part of what is happening on the web today, through folksonomies, blogs, social networks, link sharing and photo sharing are new ways for people to disclose their personalities in public and new ways to develop a digital identity that might augment who we are as people, offline.

There’s an old New Yorker cartoon that shows some dogs at a computer with the caption “on the internet, no one knows you are a dog”. It’s a Web 1.0 joke about privacy and anonymity. But today, with the rise of blogs and websites like Flickr, and 43 Things, the joke is, “offline, no one knows you are a talented photographer, that you want to learn Italian, that you discover great links or know some great people”. For now, “The Real World” still requires you to check your virtual aspirations and accomplishments at the edge of the internet. You can’t convert your whuffie just yet. But millions of people are building online identities and reputations that are accumulating meaning and value. That value gets created as we build an online reputation, as we move our private knowledge into the public domain. The issues that this brings up get lost when the only policy folks have to reference is a “privacy policy”. Perhaps we need a “publicity policy” for 2.0 websites.

A publicity policy could make clear that information on 43 Things is public: that the site is about sharing your goals with others; that using the site is voluntary and that you shouldn’t use it if you don’t want to; that by sharing information on 43 Things, you aren’t sharing anything private that we promise to safeguard, but rather you are making your information public and it will show up in the Google index, cache and internet archive.

Privacy policies focus on what happens to your private information. But a publicity policy could make clear what the implications are of sharing information in public. Maybe it needs to be pointed out that you don’t have to use your real name or that you can get a free email account to separate your pseudonym from any other account? Maybe we should scrap the email requirement so that no personal information is required at all to use 43 Things? Maybe we should add Creative Commons licenses to all the content to make it remixable with attribution and do away with the idea that the data is “owned” by anyone in an exclusive sense?

Now surely a part of this concern about privacy is about the fact that The Robot Co-op is funded by and that the facts of that funding emerged in some sensationalist press before either company had issued a press release on the deal. Live and learn on that front. But perhaps we could put the matter to rest by making it clear that no personal information is required (or desired) to use 43 Things and that would have no access to any information that isn’t already available to the rest of the world, through an individual’s decision to publicize that information.

It’s kind of crazy to think that people want to publicize their goals but maintain complete privacy, but we are willing to help! We are kind of into kind of crazy. What I do think we need is a new awareness about how publicity works in an era when sharing what was previously private can lead to new forms of identity, reputation and community.

What do you think?


Leave a response

  1. Lee LeFever Wed, 16 Mar 2005 06:40:43 GMT

    Great thoughts Josh. I like the “publicity policy” idea, and I don’t see it being specific to one organization (as a privacy policy would). You name many organization who are enabling members to build a very public and archived persona. Would the same policy work for all of them? Is the risk inherent in publicity specific to 43 Things or Flickr? I think not.<br /> <br /> Perhaps there may be an opportunity for sites with similar philosphies to agree on some kind of common agreement with customers that says something like:<br /> <br /> “43 Things is a Public Commons (or whatever name) site. By using this site (and other sites that are members of the Commons) you should be aware that every thing you do here is public and available to anyone on the web. Here are the risks… here are the advantages…”<br /> <br /> Is that the kind of thing you’re thinking? I could see some potential for a group of sites to agree and build an identity around the publicity policy.<br /> <br /> “Oh, I see that 43 Things is a Public Commons site- that tells me how I should view my participation here.”

  2. brainwidth Wed, 16 Mar 2005 09:40:15 GMT

    You mention creative commons licensing. Why not follow the Flickr model and empower the users to license their own content as they see fit?

  3. Frankie Roberto Wed, 16 Mar 2005 12:39:12 GMT

    An interesting post, and bang on cue, too! The Independent has just published <a href=”” rel=”nofollow”>an article on 43 things</a>, looking at the site’s relationship with Amazon and quoting me heavily.<br /> <br /> See <a href=”” rel=”nofollow”>my comments on the article</a> for more info.<br /> <br /> Oh and perhaps 43 things could clarify <a href=”” rel=”nofollow”>this</a>...<br /> <br /> Frankie

  4. rick Wed, 16 Mar 2005 15:01:45 GMT

    It’s not crazy to want to publicize goals/photos but maintain privacy when there <a href=”” rel=”nofollow”>are still old relics of the Web 1.0 around</a>...

  5. Chris Campbell Fri, 18 Mar 2005 05:05:44 GMT

    Some great thoughts and ideas on a publicity policy. While it seems obvious that sharing goals on a public site makes what you share available to everyone, judging from some of the discussions that surround Creative Commons licenses and the use of licensed material, there still is a lot education that is required. That being said, I’d love to see Creative Commons licensing on 43 things. It may be good to allow for finer control over what is shared and is not shared, but that may add a bit too much complexity to the whole thing. I love many of the more advanced features of 43 things are only discoved after exploring around. With the api more people will start using the data and having a clear publicity policy will be great to make things clear for everyone. Making the implications of sharing clear will be a great step and I think that it’s a much better approach than a privacy policy. Keep the conversation going!

  6. chancer Tue, 22 Mar 2005 01:54:59 GMT

    A great essay that is on the nail.<br /> <br /> It’s amazing how we have moved from the MSN messenger TOS that owned copyright in everything transmitted through the service, to the cc license within flickr.<br /> <br /> It is the net <strong>for</strong> the people, and it is happening at the margins driven by small communities, which is not how it is supposed to happen in those big old MBA books.<br /> <br /> Add my vote to the ‘for a creative commons license’ pile.

  7. Pablo Viojo Sun, 27 Mar 2005 13:20:14 GMT

    I seriously agree with the idea of creating a kind of ‘publicity policy’. As developer of a project of this kind i’m planning to include a policy of this kind. I would also wanna now if there are any kind of “group” working in the details of this common policy. If so, please contact me pviojo at or count me on to start working on it.<br /> <br /> Pablo<br /> <br /> PS please forgive my errors.