Social Transparency

February 7th, 2009

I believe online social networks will become more advanced and more common, so much so that it will go beyond the green revolution of today and trigger a more broad good revolution of tomorrow.

I was listening to futurist Paul Saffo on KQED discussing the last 100 years and the next 30-50 years, and although he is smart and had many interesting observations, I strongly disagreed with some of the pessimistic observations – like how he would hate to be in Obama’s shoes, and the US Federal goverment could become a failed state similar to how California is becoming.  I can’t really argue those specific predictions, but I do think very important technological changes that are happening will have a tremendous affect on the future.  The number one thing is that the power of the internet is yet to be realized.


Think about the affect the Internet has had already.  In theory, anybody anywhere can access enormous amount of information.   Amazing.  In practice you have places like China that block access to much of that information, but for the most part people are way more connected than they ever have been before.

The next big thing is the type of information that is available.  Ultimately humans are social creatures, they follow what their friends and family do, they spend their time wanting to be with and do things with friends and family.  Now lets think about it, what if it was super easy to know at any moment what your friends and family are doing, or what they have done recently.  Sure they will be privacy and other issues, but eventually they will be sorted. For example, with facebook, once you initially setup friends, you can announce to some or all of them things very easily.  Even your actions are part of the news feed, such as “chad reviewd a new mexican place” or “chad joined greencupboards”.

How will people react?  Well, how would you react knowing that most of your life will be semi-public information? Not in a “big brother is watching you”  way, but more of you controlling the information – what would you want to share with your friends and family?  Because these are people that you trust at some level and want to impress (not show off, you can impress your friends and family and stay true to yourself), I think people will want to share good ideas, share positive or interesting behavior, and ultimately be better people.  Sure, there will still be many that are greedy and/or don’t care what people think, but the majority of people do care what their friends and family think of them, and what the majority of people do matters.  It’s sorta like having a workout buddy – knowing your friend is there watching and supporting, you can do more than you can by yourself, and possibly eat less potato chips.  Hmm.. I sound like an optimist.. maybe cuz it was warm and sunny today in Chicago .. I digress.

This transparency, where you control what is shared between you and your friends and family, is going to trigger a good revolution.  Maybe not in 5 years, but definitely within our lifetime.  Mark my words.

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