But I don't want to share my entire life with you

Google released a Facebook app that’ll let me put my web queries in a feed so my friends can see my search and results. Now, I hear that the app doesn’t actually work, but this was one of those “but why would I do that?” moments for me.

I use Facebook. So far, my “friends” there are about 98% work folks who are using it, and for some their first real foray into an “online community”, which is great. I may be old, but I was participating in “The Well”, way back when, an early online community, before “The Internets”, as we know them existed (yes, you had to call a phone number with a modem and sign in directly to the site. Remember that kiddies?)

Anyway, I popped onto Facebook, and quickly realized I didn’t want to share my actual favorite movies, or books, or my purchase history on Amazon, or my bathroom habits with people I didn’t even know, much less people that worked at the same company and I knew casually, much less people I worked with daily.

I also realized I didn’t want to suck in my Twitter stream. I’m fine if folks want to go research me, read my blog, find my twitter stream and follow it, but given my Facebook community, putting it there would be akin to posting it on my office door. Since I mostly use twitter for generally inane banter, and chatting with friends I know off twitter, you have to care enough about what I eat for dinner and go do some research if you want follow that thread :-).

Heck, I have one person I decided to share my NetFlix list with, one of my best and dearest friends who knows all sorts of secrets about me, and even then, I think “humm, do I want him to know I rented Xanadu?”

So, do I want anyone knowing my Google search history? Heck, I don’t want Google knowing my Google search history (btw Tor is cool). Let’s say I have a rash, and I want to find out if it’s poison oak, a tick bite, or something else? Would I want anyone I know seeing I was browsing for “oozing red rash”?

Then, I realized (I do this a lot. Blunder about vaguely inkling of something for days, or months, or years, then finally realize the meaning of it all. Some might call me slow, I think of myself as needing all the data 🙂 I have a double online life (or, actually, many of them). I have things I’m willing to share with everyone. Silly diatribes like this, a bunch of pictures I put on Flickr, a good portion of my bookmarks on del.icio.us, little snippets of what I might be doing on Twitter. But, I also have a private life. That life I’ll share with my actual, flesh-and-blood, I know what they smell like ’cause I’ve been in the same room with them more than once, friends. I even put some of that online, but I want to have it be for “my real friends eyes only”. Then, as always, there’s stuff “just for me”, which I won’t share with anyone, and generally for me, doesn’t include computer.

As the social networking boom hit, the breakdown early was “everyone”, and “friends”. There’s not generally a concept of “real friends”. And, I have “everyone”, “virtual friends”, “work friends”, and “real friends” as a starting point.

So, I generally limit what I share to “everyone”. I don’t limit most things at all to “friends”, since that includes virtual and work and real, and so must be only content I’d want to share with “virtual”, which, let’s face it, is “everyone”, ’cause who the heck knows who any of these virtual people really are?

I just realized I used my double quote key an awful lot in this rant. Oh well, I’m not submitting a story to the New Yorker…

I have a great “once removed” example. A co-worker was at a party recently. There was some wine involved. It was a social event, not a work event. Pictures were taken. One of the people at the party, who took pictures, was “friends” on Facebook with said co-worker. They posted the pictures, tagged with the co-worker being in them. All this co-workers other “friends” on Facebook (many of which were work friends) saw there were new pictures of them, and there they were, at a party, drinking wine.

A fairly innocent occasion, nothing shocking here, but my co-worker had no participation other than being at the party, and knowing someone who was an online friend, and that friend innocently sharing their life as they always do. Yet, now a private party they were in was publicly shared with their co-workers. They were, um, surprised at the discovery that their life was now a bit more open than it had been just weeks before when they hadn’t been on a community like Facebook.

My first thought was, that entitlement might help moderate that exposure. That old computer concept that data can be tagged for who is allowed to access it, and people are given rights to indicate who they are, and what they’re entitled to access. You use this all the time online. Your bank accounts, your mobile phone account, your cable or satellite provider. Depending on who you are, where you live, what kind of account you have, you can see different information.

Is that what we need in the online community? I’m of two minds. I’d put a lot more information online, if I could more granularly decide who could have access to it. But, I also am acutely aware I’m not the generation that invented or heavily participates in social networking. Is it that the folks who participate in these communities have “the online persona”, and the “offline persona”, and they are adept as only sharing online enough to let you know a bit about them, while reserving some final percentage of their lives only for those closer to them? And there is no conflict of sharing that last bit?

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