Thursday, April 18, 2013

Web Out Loud

It's not that you want to know. But if you did, this post alone could tell you that I was up at some ungodly hour writing this entry from somewhere in New York City. Not sure how eerily close you can get to triangulating my coordinates. But to be honest, it's not something that I'm too concerned about.


Over dinner last night, my colleagues and I got into a discussion about "our generation." As far as I can tell, age forces one to make increasingly frequent references to his and her generation. So in age appropriate fashion, that's what we did.

During this conversation, one person in the group mentioned how difficult it would be to build a product that wins the minds and eyes of kids currently in high school. The social disruption that is Facebook happened to me at the age of 19, whereas folks currently in high school have been raised on the platform - with or without parental consent.

Thinking about this is shocking, even if not a novel discovery on our parts. Emerging generations - if you will - have increasingly become socialized in a fashion that makes living life out loud on the web has become the norm. From Facebook to Instagram to Twitter to any niche network you can name, there has been a grand shift toward sharing more and more data. However, some differ in opinion about the benefits you get in return.

Spending nearly a decade in Silicon Valley before making the move to New York likely played a large role in my desensitization toward privacy issues. While I was never the one to sit down like a good web citizen and read every TOS or privacy policy, I did trust in the power of the crowd to surface any glaring irregularities. I took solace in knowing that if some fun app came along stating that it could lay claim upon some core aspect of my online identity, other webizens would spring into action. The company would be shamed and some degree of corrective action would be taken. Checks and balance.

However, beyond the brute force of the crowd, I think that my "generation" and those more aged  than I take pause around online privacy issues because we've all lived in a world that predated dual identities. I mean, my last post literally talked about my uneasiness with offline discussion about my online behavior. It doesn't freak me out, but it is something that is slightly jarring and unexpected. Even now, with over 10 years experience of social networking awesomeness.

Yet still, my awareness of the subtle mental gulf between my two identities helps me to embrace it further and better refine the way the two interact. For this reason, I think I am far more dismissive of some vocal minorities that seem to suggest that many value-additive features of the web are efforts to create a Big Brother-esque stronghold over who we are and what we do.

What we may be missing in these discussions around privacy and what companies should be able to know about us online is that fact that we may have already tipped. The kids that will file into high school classrooms in a few hours are so deeply engaged and immersed in internet-based activity that having a web that knows and adapts to them in a highly intelligent (or what some older folks may call creepy) fashion. This will be the front along which differentiation will occur as tech continues trucking forward.

Discussion around the online and offline will slowly fade out. Instead, in a world of increased connectedness, people will find it more difficult to unplug. Yet, I believe that people have already become more unwilling to unplug. So if I ever try my hand at building a web-based business, I will approach it with a belief that people want to be watched, understand as something more than a pattern, and improved upon to the greatest extent possible.

If you fundamentally believe that the web is good, the future of tech excites you. But if you fundamentally believe that the web is a scary place filled with pitfalls and potholes, there's much more in store that's probably going to freak you the fuck out.


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