Living in Public – Facebook, Privacy and Frictionless Distribution

shhhhh.jpegYou already live in public. You always have. All that has changed is how easy it is to distribute the evidence.

We used to take for granted that the stupid things we did (we’ve all done them) would only live in the connections we had with friends and family. The photos were printed on paper and stuck in a scrapbook. The story was told… and re-told, but stayed safely within the confines of our local, limited group of friends.

Everyone is annoyed with Facebook because of their erosion of privacy – and not without reason. But the fact is, Facebook is right. Just like the RIAA, MPAA, Print Media and Brands are learning – distribution of content is cheap and easy – frictionless. The RIAA, MPAA, and Print Media relied on the inherent friction in distribution to create a business model. Brands relied on that same friction to give them a more powerful voice in the marketplace.

And you relied on that same friction in distribution to keep the evidence of your foibles – if not secret – closely confined.

Facebook is right. The change is inevitable. You can’t hide anymore. You aren’t living more in public, the evidence is just easier to distribute to whomever in the “public” is looking.

Some people will say – “we will just have to live better”. Cut out all the mistakes, foolish moments, wardrobe malfunctions, and drunken escapades. After all, your future dream job may hang in the balance.

I say – to hell with that. You learn from your mistakes. If you live your life trying so desperately hard not to make any… you won’t learn much.

Maybe, just maybe, we will learn to accept that we all have foibles and engage in occasional missteps. Maybe our future employers – being human themselves – will realize that it isn’t the photo of you wearing ladies underpants on your head that should worry them – but the public profile devoid of any mistakes, any foolish moments, any human-ness.

Social Media is about Aggregation – Not Publishing/Networks

I’ve been using FriendFeed for several months now. As a matter of fact, with the addition of real-time FriendFeed is now my primary Social Media interface. Why? Because the critical attribute which makes Social Media useful (yep, I’m banging on the adding value drum again) is aggregation, not publishing or networks. Publishing and networks are required – but they quickly become commoditized. An example – Twitter gets popular and up pops Laconica, Yammer, OpenMicroBlogging, identi.ca, …

Social Networks are no different. How many social networks do you have to check every day to keep up? What are the odds that all of your friends (or co-workers) are on the same network?

Social Bookmarking – no different. Friends across multiple networks.

The result is that you – in order to actually use Social Media in a useful way (information discovery) – have to jump through hoop after hoop after hoop to attempt to discover anything.

That is why aggregation is so powerful – and why I was never all that impressed with Twitter’s Track feature (which caused so much angst when turned off). Track was only interesting if you assume all the relevant information was/is on Twitter. In other words – the network drives value, not the information – and that completely misses the point.

FriendFeed gets it. The value is in the information – and providing aggregation of that information and useful tools to locate, consume and re-share that information is the key to providing value. With the introduction of Real-Time FriendFeed completely changes the real-time information discovery game.

FriendFeed allows a user to aggregate all the places they view, track, share, and create information. When you follow a person you follow all of their information – regardless of what network it is generated on. That – to me – is the point of a “follow” – I want to know what you find interesting, because if you find it interesting I might too. I really don’t care how you share the information… and I certainly don’t want to follow you around the inter-webs joining every cool new network to get access to the information you view, track, share, and create. When you join a new service (a.k.a., network) you add it to FriendFeed and viola! I can see what you share there as well…

The introduction of real-time (while admittedly imperfect) is a sea change for real-time information discovery. It transforms it from a network (service) based activity (e.g., I can see what happens on Facebook in real-time in Facebook – I can see what happens in Twitter real-time in Twitter – etc) to person based activity – I see, in real-time – what you share, without the limitations of network/service.

The only thing missing from FriendFeed today is aggregation based on topic. That is, the ability to specify a group (e.g., everyone, my friends, a room, etc) and a topic search (e.g., debate, google, pretty cat pictures, etc) and see only information which satisfies both criteria.

At the end of the day – the aggregation of information a person shares, and the ability of others to “follow” that information stream is Social Media. The social graph is interesting, but it doesn’t add value to people’s lives in any meaningful way (granted it creates a highly valuable advertising platform). Efficient sharing of information and information discovery does. Aggregation is the secret sauce.