Today I’m presenting you with an article about a massive flaw in the world of online social networking. I have to warn you beforehand that there is no perfect solution to the problem I am about to describe since it’s mostly a psychological problem. On the upside, I will suggest some patches that can reduce the problem up to 90%.
Contextual sharing using aspects
If you are on Diaspora, then you probably already know that Diaspora allows you to share different facets of your personality and life with different people through the use of so-called aspects. You can be a professional towards your boss, a friend towards your friends and an activist to like-minded people. This ability to share different things with different people is called “contextual sharing”. The basic principle here is that you adjust your behaviour based on your audience.
Diaspora’s concept of contextual sharing is very innovative. You can tell so by the fact that Google copied the feature for its own social network, Google+. Contextual sharing allows people to better express themselves by taking into account the different audiences they are dealing with. However, there is one field that is not covered by contextual sharing, and that field is massive! It is called public content.
Public content is all that can be seen by people with whom you are not yet connected. They are the random folks who visit your public profile. Because these people are not in your aspects, you cannot adjust your actions based on them. You may not even know that they are watching you. You don’t know who they are. This leads us to the big question: what information do I want to make publicly available to strangers and how will this influence their opinion of me?
Take a shave, brush your teeth, eat an apple
I’m sure a lot of people are wondering about the consequences of their public posts. Future employees may well be crawling your public web pages to get a decent impression of you. As such, most people are very focused on giving strangers the right impression when it comes to public content, where “right” often means “socially acceptable”. This pressure to be right often goes beyond being who we really are and as a result, we do not post some of our thoughts. Being a huge fan of diversity and new ideas, I believe that’s a shame.
In other cases, people couldn’t care less and so continue posting their thoughts uncensored. Although I feel a certain admiration for those people – not giving a fuck about what people think of you is EPIC! – I wouldn’t recommend posting your deepest inner feelings and thoughts as you’ll get seriously burned at some point. Like not being able to find a job or getting caught as a possible suspect in a murder case. Behaving in a socially acceptable way can be important!
Questionable public posts
There are basically two categories of public posts that we send down the drain while trying to be socially acceptable. I call these: “keeping a secret in public” and “not wanting to bother people”. I’ll give some examples for both categories.
Keeping a secret in public
“Why keep a secret in public?” you ask. “A secret in public is not a secret at all, right?” Untrue! Sometimes you want to keep something secret from people you know while still sharing it with those you don’t. This way it will remain a secret, or at least to some people!
Here are two examples:
- I used to play Runescape until about half a year ago. The overall opinion is that Runescape is an ugly, stupid game for 12-year-olds. Runescapers know that and so often choose not to tell their friends at school about it, for fear of becoming the laughingstock of their class. In a social networking situation, this means they won’t be able to post publicly about their favorite game, as their friends will notice that they play “that pathetic game”.
- I listen to Viking Metal. Yes, I really do. The band is called Ensiferum and I totally love the epic sounds they spit out. Not the screaming, but the powerful drums and guitar riffs. No one in my surroundings seems to be fond of it though, so I keep it to myself and I put the volume down when my mum is coming up the stairs. I’m following the tag in my stream but I won’t post any songs to avoid a confrontation.
Not wanting to bother people
The second category is slightly more obvious. These are the posts that would normally go into your aspects if it weren’t for the fact that there are people out there with whom you are not connected but who would love to take part in your discussion. In order to reach these folks, you will have to bother your existing contacts with unwanted information.
- I’m studying accountancy. Accountants are boring. They are dusty and old. Placing check marks is extremely uninteresting. Who would want to have to listen to what an accountant has to say? Exactly, no one outside the business. Also, why would customers be interested in my personal life, double rainbows and silly pictures?*
- Religion: stop bothering me with your faith, I do not believe in God and I never will. Fire your psalms at someone else.*
- Activism: yes, I know chickens get killed, their feathers picked and that they get wrapped up in plastic to be delivered in the local supermarket. Let me tell you something: they are delicious. Stop bothering me!*
* These points are exaggerated and do not reflect my personal opinion.
The beginning of a solution
To summarize the above story:
- We refrain from posting certain things in public to avoid confrontations.
- This means we do not fully express ourselves.
- As a result, we do not meet like-minded people.
- Self-censorship sucks.
Luckily, I did come up with a couple of solutions that would go a long way in solving this much-neglected problem. Diaspora could really set itself apart from the competition by recognizing these problems and implementing some, if not all, of the following suggestions.
The first solution is to have the ability to post something in public without putting it on your public profile and without sharing it with your friends. Your message will be floating in space, with no one knowing that the message even exists. Only those who are either following the hashtags included in your posts or those who search for the post will be able to find it.
These are the secrets in public I mentioned earlier on. The safety is that when someone finds your post, they will most likely have a relation to the subject. Avoiding judgmental replies from people you know has never been easier! To me, this is what Twitter should have been all along. It allows you to participate in controversial topics without notifying everyone about it.
This so-called “off-the-record posting” can be done in conjunction with #hashtags and @mentions. It’s also a great solution when implementing groups that work with !bangtags, as you can decide whether or not you would like to share your group posts with your friends. Facebook and Twitter do not give you this choice and instead make the decision for you. With this implemented, now you can be the one in control!
If you do not want to bother your contacts with topics which you know won’t interest them, then public aspects is what you are looking for.
Public aspects were first mentioned by Markus (Notch) Persson, as a suggestion for Google+. Notch is the developer of Minecraft, among other games, and works for Mojang. His problem is a clear one: he is reasonably open about his personal life, he is famous for building Minecraft, he has some other projects going on as well and he takes a clear stance on various developments on the Internet. What he needs is an account with:
- Aspects for his private life
- Regular public posts about the things he chooses to post public
- Public aspects for “Minecraft” and “Other development”
This way, people can choose to just follow his public posts about Minecraft or just his public posts about all other sorts of development. His real life buddies can share with him without receiving all the unwanted information about Minecraft.
Personally, I would most likely have a public aspect for “Accountancy” and “Diaspora”. The related public posts will no longer appear in my normal public stream, leaving something much less chaotic for my friends to enjoy. Visitors can then choose whether or not they want to follow these public aspects. It leaves me more room to post extensively about these topics in public without annoying my family and friends.
Reshare to aspect
I love resharing crazy pictures. Unfortunately, resharing them with my boss might not always be a good idea, especially when she’s a woman and the picture is a bit sexist. Some things just need to stay within your friendly circles. Being able to reshare a public picture with a limited audience would be helpful in this case.
More freedom, more self-expression, more joy. Being different together is great!