In our daily lives, we are confronted with numerous opportunities and requests for sharing all sorts of things: our yard tools, our time, specific types of information. And in our daily lives, whether we’re asked to share a rake or an apple pie recipe, we quickly perform a complex calculation to determine if we are willing to share the item in question and on what terms. Online sharing tools are quickly catching up, offering ways to share new types of information (even objects) and new ways to grant or restrict access to groups or individuals.
We Are All Advanced Sharers
I recently began a presentation on the topic of Advanced Sharing this way: I spoke into the microphone, saying, “My name is Gadi Ben-Yehuda, and your name is,” and then I held the microphone out to the audience. A cacophony of names was spoken. “I am the innovation and social media director for the IBM Center for the Business of Government and you are” and a chaos of titles and organizations rose up. “My social security number is,” and I gave my real, actual number.
“No one? I thought we were sharing!” And then laughter.
The truth is, in the real world, we have a very nuanced, very advanced scheme for sharing information and experiences, and different vocabularies for sharing them. The basic variables of that formula are: the context or platform, the audience, and the specific content. In other words: where are you sharing, whom are you sharing it with, and what is it that you’re sharing?
This seems straightforward to the point of blindingly obvious, but until very recently, online social media has not accommodated this kind of approach to sharing, and even now, people do not always apply the same heuristics to online sharing that they do to sharing at, say, a presentation on online sharing.
As online sharing more closely approximates how people share in the rest of their lives, government agencies will need to adapt their own methods. Though there will be new barriers, the benefits of engaging online will only increase as both people and government organizations begin to inhabit more fully the new digital landscape.
The Old Approach to Sharing Online
It’s strange to talk about how people behaved from 2006 – 2011 as belonging to “the old approach,” but this is the internet we’re discussing. On Myspace, Facebook, and Twitter, there were basic models for sharing. The first one, exemplified by Facebook and MySpace, was to open certain information to everyone and to keep all the rest hidden from everyone except those the user placed on a whitelist. The Twitter approach was to open all information to everyone except those people whom the user put on a blacklist.
Advanced Sharing Moves Online, Or: How Google+ Succeeded (in Making Facebook Better)
Google+ made the idea of groups of friends central to its platform, and it made the activity kind of fun—dropping and dragging contacts into circles on the screen. This forced Facebook to revamp the ways people could group their friends and to add a feature to their sharing function to make it easier to switch between those groups. Currently, Facebookers use drop-down in the status-update pane to switch between sharing a note of encouragement with their coworkers, a picture of their children with their family, and a picture from a rowdy holiday party with a few close friends.
Though Google+ may never seriously compete with Facebook, let alone supplant it, the newer network succeeded in changing online social networking by adding a level of sophistication to the way that sites allowed their users to share information among their many tiers and types of friends.
Where We Share Matters
Parents of young children often have to state explicitly that we have “inside voices” and “outside voices.” Or that there are some words that we can use in the bathroom, but we replace with other words when we’re in a restaurant. But everyone implicitly understands that context determines what can be shared and how—even when it’s the same people we’re sharing with. Colleagues who meet for a conference are very likely to use different vocabularies during the formal presentations than they will when the meet for drinks afterwards to talk about the day’s activities, as one example.
Online, this translates to people using different language and even entirely different media (pictures, videos, or links as examples) on different sites (Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, or Pinterest, as examples).
Our Audience Matters
Remember when you were sharing URLs by calling them “Web addresses” and telling people (perhaps much older people) over the phone “OK, type “h-t-t-p-colon-slash-slash-w-w-w. . .”? Of course, as people became more acquainted with the language of the Web, it became easier simply to say “just go to Fandango” or, even better, “You can Google that.” (or, if you’re passive-aggressive, you can offer: “let me Google that for you.”)
In a more serious vein, when we talk about scientific data, or emergency preparations, or nutrition, or cybersecurity, even though the content may be the same, we will use different terms, different metaphors, and different media (charts for some, visualizations for others) to communicate most effectively.
What We Share Changes How We Share It
The most obvious variable in how, with whom, and even whether we share something is exactly the “something” we are going to share. What is not obvious, however, is that nearly everything will soon become something we can share. And what follows is that there will be more- and less-effective ways to share different things.
Currently, what we share though online media is information: where we are, who is joining us, what we think about current events, what our dinner looks like. But, as I discussed at length, 3D printing may usher in an era of Products-on-Demand, (PonD), in which we’ll be able to share physical objects as information, transforming them into nonexclusive, nonrival goods.
The universe of what we can share is expanding, as is what we can do inside that universe. On Facebook, we can share events, which allows people to signal their attendance and puts the event on their calendar, or we can share notes, which are like blog posts, or we can comment on other’s status updates, or we can send personal messages through it’s private-messaging function. And what is likely to determine which method of sharing we use is the content we are trying to share.
What This Means for Government Agencies
Ultimately, what this means for government agencies is that it won’t be sufficient simply to have a facebook page on which the agency posts links to its press releases (actually, that’s already true). What it means is that agencies will need to upgrade, update, and adapt their sharing procedures as established sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ have more nuanced sharing tools and new sites, like Pinterest, acquire a critical mass of users.
Finally, it’s important to note that the government has a comprehensive information-sharing program and strategy that addresses homeland security, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies. The same strictures that apply to those functions of government will apply to other agencies as well.
I’ll write more about these topics in my next post.