Granular Sharing

I swear that one day I will stop talking about Google+.

One of the things that struck me the other day as I was writing the post about LiveJournal was the realization that LJ had recognized early on in the social media scene that people want choices when they’re sharing certain information.  LiveJournal developed communities of people around a certain interest, and those entries could be public or private depending on the community.  Many of the snark communities are private until you become a member, and all the entries on it are blocked until you are approved by a moderator.  Within your personal journals you are able to make any entry totally public, available to your friends, available to a customized group of friends, or even available to no one but yourself.

To my knowledge there is no other blogging software that exists that has this level of customizable sharing.  And actually, to my knowledge there is no other social media platform until Google+ came along that allowed that kind of granular level of sharing.

Now, some people have asked me if I’ve made use of the customizable sharing of Google+.  The answer is not really very much, because I live a fairly public life.  That said, I like having the option of keeping things a little closer to home than not.  There are plenty of things that I would prefer to keep private, and yet feel comfortable talking about those things with a select group of friends.  This could be health issues, religious question, questions that I feel are only appropriate if asked of people within my field of work just to name a few.

There are some people in my life with whom I would divulge anything.  My mother for instance.  I cannot keep a secret from her, nor would I ever want to.  Also I have a select group of friends with whom I feel comfortable confiding things that I don’t want to announce to the world.

When I was more active on LiveJournal I made very heavy use of this.  One of the common things that I would keep private were conversations about my job. There come times in every job that try your soul, and when I was in that dark place about 6 years ago I needed to share those troubles with people I trusted.  To do that I went to my LiveJournal community and confided in a select group of trusted friends.  The resulting conversations led me to try to start my own business, to see if I could make a go of it on my own.  Ultimately the home business did not pan out (hello tanking economy!), but the support that I got from my friends at LiveJournal was all the incentive I needed to get encouragement in my troubled time.

Its moments like this that are why we need to have granular sharing that is functional and intuitive in social media. Even if it is only an option.

While these functions sort of exist in Facebook, they are really pushing you to share absolutely everything with everyone.  As part of my control freaky nature I have often disabled people from tagging me in pictures and I don’t allow anyone to write on my wall.  My one exception is to turn on wall writing for my birthday, only because everyone and their mother will write happy birthday on your wall.  It’s kind of cool, but I don’t want my wall turning into what happened on MySpace where people post ridiculous glittering unicorn .gifs and sexy shirtless dudes.  That’s just not something I really want to see on my Facebook Page, because I feel it’s supposed to represent who I am. Also, because things that get posted to your wall get reshared across all your friends, and I have coworkers on there, I try and control my message on Facebook.  Sometimes I wonder if anyone ever realizes that they’re saying what they do in a public forum.  I mean, it’s incredible how much people will share without a thought in the world as to who may read it.

I’m even more controlling when it comes to blogs.  I chose WordPress for this content because a lot of other library bloggers are on here, and that creates a great ping-back community when we cross link to each other.  Plus the dashboard is pretty awesome.  But the downside is that everything is public.  There are no secrets here, nor is there any way to make something secret here.  This is the place to publish, and by publish they really mean it.  They want your stuff to go out to the entire world, and make it available via whatever means necessary. Blogger and TypePad are the same in that respect, once it’s live, it’s live for the world to see.  No secrets.  For professional writing this makes sense.

But LiveJournal, at least as it’s been used in America, has always been a place for the personal.  It’s been where people go to bear their soul, and do silly quizzes at each other.  I also feel like it’s grown up a lot since I began using it.  Maybe it’s just me, and the way I use LiveJournal who has grown up.  To me it actually has the feel of a journal, the kind that one would keep as a paper diary, only in an electronic format.  The privacy settings allow it to retain that feeling, by being able to limit a post to only yourself, or to a limited group.  You’re not announcing something to the world as a whole, but rather to a small group of known friends.

Someone asked me if I was going to migrate my content off of LJ to protect it in case the company crashes.  I think that any content migration would have to be something that would respect the variant levels of privacy that I set in there.  So, no, there is no real way to maintain the integrity of the LJ blog in a content migration. There’s no way I would be able to recreate the individual user access that I have in there among the friends that used that service, and still do today.

The reality of all of this is that the people I have in each of my social networks are totally different.  There are some people who are on all of them with me, and some who are only on one or another.  There are some people I am more comfortable sharing with on LJ, some on Facebook, Some on Google+ and some here on WordPress.  Each venue has its own unique vibe, and the content that I post in each of those places varies, and that depends upon who’s in there.  So here’s a snapshot of who’s in where.

  • WordPress: Totally Public – WordPress is my professional voice.  It’s my soapbox for library and tech things.  I tend to write here about three times a week.
  • LiveJournal: Semi-Public – LiveJournal is my personal voice.  It’s where I share the more intimate details of my life, to varying degrees of openness.  I also have a second LJ for some occasional creative writing projects.  Writing comes in fits and starts on both accounts, sometimes I’m on a tear and go every day, and sometimes it’s nothing for a month.  Depends on my mood really.
  • Facebook: Friends and Colleagues – Facebook is kind of a free for all.  Its made up of people that I personally know, or plan to meet someday.  It’s kind of a blend of personal and professional.  I post some of the pictures from the crazy street performances I do with the faeries and talk about some professional and political things as well.  None of it, however, is anything that I would be embarrassed to show my mother.  Facebook is an every day affair.
  • Google+: Random Happy Mutants – Google+ is kind of a sandbox.  I have a lot of strangers in there, but all of them fit into neat little compartments of librarians, authors, comic book people, bears and Pagans.  If someone by chance adds me who I have no idea who they are I will look at who they are and who we share in common and put them in the appropriate group.  For those who don’t fit I put them in “the whole wide world” unless they are posting things I really can’t look at while I’m at work, like hot shirtless dudes.  I check G+ multiple times a day.
  • Twitter: Colleagues Only – Twitter I am on, but hardly use for anything.  I follow very few people, and all I post are relays from the WordPress.  Mostly because library people Twitter, and I push stuff out for them.  I never look at twitter any more.

So that’s where I’m at with social media.  It does consume an inordinate amount of time, but its time that I appreciate.  I feel like I’m truly connecting with people, that I’m learning things, and that I’m sharing things that are meaningful, fun, and occasionally funny.  I like having the option to share privately, and occasionally I do.  It’s not always, but sometimes it’s important to have that around.

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Information Gathering

This is my new information gathering m.o.

  • Wake up in the morning and grab my cellphone.
  • Click the Google Plus button and scroll through what’s in there.
  • Start opening links from friend’s posts into the browser tabs, and floating back to G+.
  • Go to Facebook, and do the same thing.
  • Once I’ve gone through all the posts on Facebook, I click to browser and read the articles.
  • Occasionally reshare, like or +1 the article in its home site.
  • Shower (phone playing music from my files)
  • Down to the laptop at the kitchen table, eat breakfast and read any articles I missed from the phone.
  • THEN I check the following sites: BoingBoing, The Atlantic, io9, Gizmodo, Lifehacker, NY Times.
  • Share articles from respective sites to my FB and G+ feeds.

This kind of information behavior is becoming the new norm, and that’s what social networking sites are banking on.  I’m absolutely certain that Google, the most predominant search engine out there, is upgrading their algorithms to incorporate things like the resharing of articles and +1, to boost the signal on content that is becoming socially relevant to people.  That’s more than likely how Sparks is supposed to work, but who looks at Sparks anyway?  With all of the awesome things coming through your stream, there’s no need to go out looking for more.

Sharing information between friends has always part of the experience of gathering information.  Social networks and availability of online content have expanded that tremendously, but each does it differently due to their policies on how you can add people.  Facebook requires you to mutually accept a friend request. This is a barrier designed to focus on the relationship between the people involved.  You are acknowledging that you and this other person are friends, and that acknowledgment allows you to see their content.  Google+ on the other hand has the option to follow people, and not have them follow you back, thus allowing you to see content from people you wouldn’t normally have acknowledged as a friend, and thus extending your relationships beyond personal acquaintance.

Part of the reason I go to Google+ first now is because a) I have a vast majority of people who are not necessarily close to me (increasing the complexity of what I’m reading) and b) there is a greater space to contextualize the information being received.  So not only am I seeing a wide array of content that I would not be exposed to via my Facebook friends, but I’m also getting a clearer picture of why they’re sharing that content with me and what they believe it means.  Twitter has never really felt relevant to me, because I get far too little information from the people posting to encourage me to want to click a shortened URL.  They can’t explain why they’re providing the link, or what their pros and cons are with a piece.  Facebook at least allows you a little breathing room when sharing a link.  But even there you have a limited character space.  Google+ affords you the opportunity to practically write a thesis in rebuttal or praise of an article.  People who read your post can truly get to the heart of why you’re sharing this content with them. Add to that the fact that resharing a post from the original author incorporates not only his/her massive context, but also allows the resharer to post his/her response to the article.  That gives you two extended opinions from two different people as well as the original link to the article online, which vastly increases the trust one has with the content that they’re reading.

Google+ only has about 30,000 people on the network, as opposed to Facebook which has half a billion.  And yet blog sites are reporting that G+ is driving a tremendous amount of traffic to their pages, I know that I’ve seen this and loads of other bloggers have to.  It’s because it’s built on the very real culture of discussing literature and sharing it with your friends.  And when your definition of friend is ever-widening, you see content going viral more often.

Then again, maybe G+ users are just extremely avid readers, like these folks…

Who Are You, and Why Are You Oversharing?

Warning: This is about Google+, so if you’re not on it, it’s probably going to be a little confused.  Hell, I’m confused.

I’ve been on Google+ for a couple weeks now and the thing that continues to perplex me is the Incoming stream.  From what I can gather, the only content that goes in there are posts that are a) from people who have added you to their circles, but who you have not circled back and b) people who have chosen to share a post to their Extended Circles which pushes content to their friends’ friends.

Point “A” I can understand, even if it is a bit like spamming people.  I mean, why would you add someone you don’t know and intentionally push content to them?  It’s kind of vain, and could lead to crazy amounts of abuse.  But at least its in a separate stream, and you can block the major offenders and report them as spammers.  So, not so bad really.

But what I don’t understand is Point “B.”  You may know me, but you don’t know my friends, nor do you know how I may have chosen to divide my circles up.  Sure, a few of my friends may be interested in your random content.  But who do you think you are?  Is your post so important that you’re trying to push it to people who might be interested just on the hopes to get more friends?  Do you think you’re not famous enough?  Are you desperately searching for more readers, but too lazy to go making actual connections with people that you resort to sending messages to FOAFs?

Extended Circles is an option that should be used judiciously, as should all of them, but this especially.  If something is generally acceptable to be made a public post, then do so, and all your circles will see it.  If you only want your circles to see it, then only select which circle should see it. If, however, you’re interested in sharing something that you seriously believe is important enough to randomly notify people you don’t know please think about limiting it to a specific circle and only to their extensions.

Let me give a couple appropriate examples of use for extended circles.

Professional Dragnet

Say you have a circle full of people in your industry.  These are a combination of people you know and people you’re following. Say you want to find people who are interested in presenting at a conference. You could broadcast to that specific industry focused circle, and their extended circles, and boom, more of the right people know about your conference.

The Hottest Party Ever

You know a lot of local folks into a particular hobby.  I’ll leave the hobby to your imagination.  You want to have a kickass party around that hobby, but you want to cast a wider net.  So you invite your hobby friends, and their extended circles.  This sends the information about the event to their FOAFs and you wind up getting a great turnout for your party.

Now in each of these cases you’re capitalizing on your own ability to sort out the folks in your circles, and you’re also banking that your friends have other friends in the same field.  Generally that’s not such a bad bet, but you’ll still wind up pushing content to those unsuspecting folks like me, who are like “WTF is this post about, who sent this to me, and why me?”  Some may pick it up and run with it, and others may just tune you out.

The other thing you would have to consider is signal spreading.  You may want to announce, out of courtesy and your best interest as well, that this post is going out to extended circles and that it’s okay to share with other people’s circles and extended circles within a particular sphere of use.  In the case of your awesome party, you may wind up with way more than you bargained for, especially if you want to keep it a little contained.

So please, be kind, don’t overshare unless you’ve got a damn good reason.