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2 posts from January 2009

The blurring of our lives: Does learning info about co-workers via Facebook improve connections? Or feel creepy?

facebook.jpgAt what point does all the information sharing in Facebook (and other social media) that is now visible to your co-workers cross over from being helpful in building connections between employees and move into feeling like a somewhat creepy invasion of privacy?

Right now we are living through a grand experiment in blurring the lines between personal and business lives.... between "friends" in the traditional sense, "friends" in the local community, "friends" we've met online and "friends" who are co-workers (and in some cases "friends" who are vendors, customers, etc.).

blurring-presocialmedia-1.jpgSure, those lines have always been blurred in some fashion. Many times the people we work with are some of our closest "friends". For many people who work in jobs in a local community, the intersection of their "friends" between employees, customers, and people they know in the community is very high. The same people come into their store that they see at a local sports game... or see at the local school... or go to the same church with... or see at a local bar.

For others, the intersection may be quite smaller. Co-workers may be far away. The job may have little or no connection to the local community. Family may be scattered all over the region, country or globe. "Friends" may be fewer or may be farther apart - or may be more online. In larger communities, especially, you may go to a church on the other side of the city and have kids in a sports league in another part of the city and your office may be in yet another part of town.

The degree of the blurring has a lot to do with the size of the local community you live in and the degree of your connection to that community. You may not attend a church... or play in a sport (or have kids that do)... you may not have kids and not have the school connections.

The point is that we've typically have different groups of people with whom we've shared different pieces of information. We know people in different "contexts" and share information with them in that context and often that context alone.

This is particularly true with the divide between our "work" and "personal" lives. Sure, we've always shared some parts of our personal life inside the walls of our "work" environment. We've talked to our co-workers... gathered at water coolers or in break rooms or cafeterias. Some people have shared very openly about what they are doing and we've learned much about their overall personality. Others have remained very private and shared virtually nothing. To some degree, we all have a facade that we construct that is how we appear to our co-workers.

The wall between work and personal lives has been there.

blurring-socialmedia.jpgThat wall is being demolished, though, along with all the other walls, in the new world of social media. We typically have only one Facebook account... we have one Twitter account... we have one MySpace account... and so on. We add "friends" who we know in various contexts to the same account.

Think for a moment about who you have added as Facebook "friends" (assuming you use Facebook). I know my list contains at least this:

  • people who have been long-time friends in the traditional sense of the word
  • people I know through activities related to VoIP/communications
  • people I know through activities related to information security / VoIP security
  • people I know through activities related to marketing / PR / communications / blogging / podcasting
  • co-workers from my current employer
  • co-workers from previous employers
  • several industry analysts
  • developers / programmers I know from various projects
  • people I met while living in Ottawa, Ontario, and Burlington, VT
  • people with whom I was involved starting up a curling club in VT
  • a couple of extended family members
  • an increasing number of people I grew up with back in the 70s and 80s, some of whom are probably wondering what in the world it is I do now
  • people I've met at various conferences and became friends with
  • a few people from Keene, NH, where we moved this summer
  • other people I've met randomly in some context and become friends with

It's a diverse list of people... and yet they all see the same information in my Facebook NewsFeed. They see the same status updates... they see the same photos I post... the same Notes I import... the same bookmarks... the same videos I create.

The many different contexts are blurred into one.

Now maybe this is a great thing... we all get to learn more about each other - and the person behind the facade that we construct for each context. Or maybe are we learning too much. Where is the line?

Going back to my original question at the beginning... within Facebook the "25 random things about me" meme seems to be going strong in recent weeks, at least among the people to whom I am connected on Facebook. You know, it's the "here are 25 things about me that most people don't know". We went through a whole string of memes like this out in the blogosphere a few years back and now and then they keep surfacing.

Anyway, the few posts I have had time to read in Facebook lately have actually been quite fun to read. I've learned a lot about some of the folks... remembered old stories... learned new ones. Some have been discreet in the info shared... and some have been more revealing than I would personally be.

It's that latter bit that got me thinking about all of this. What if the person sharing the "revealing" information is a co-worker? Do we understand yet how (or if) this changes our relationships? Do I gain more respect learning of a serious childhood illness now overcome? Do I lose respect for that co-worker when I learn of the drunken binges they go on each month? What if I don't like their politics or religion? Does any of this change the way I interact with the person? On one level, how can it not change my views of that person? - but can I/we move beyond that?

Have our "culture" and "conventions" caught up with the degree of information our tools now let us share?

Where is the line between information we share with co-workers and our "personal" lives? Is there even a line? Or is the very concept of such a line just a quaint anachronism of another era?

P.S. For my own part, I assume there is no line and continue to follow the mantra: "Never put online (anywhere) anything you would not want to appear on the front page of the New York Times." Perhaps that limits my "openness", though...

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Why Apple's move to take iTunes DRM-free matters...

After tweeting this in response to the MacWorld keynote today:

I had a couple of people ask me what DRM is all about and why it matters. So here's my take on why DRM for music matters to me.

"DRM" is "Digital Rights Management" and if you want the gory details Wikipedia has a lengthy article but essentially DRM is "copy protection" in either software or hardware form that restricts your access to some digital media to only "authorized" devices/programs/computers/etc.

In the context of iTunes, it is the software that restricts you to only being able to play purchased music on specific computers or devices. When you buy a song from the iTunes Music Store (that has DRM), you can play that song only on computers that are authorized through your iTunes Music Store account. If I recall correctly, you are limited to 5 computers. If I have a new laptop or iPod or whatever, I have to authorize that device before it can download and play the music.

Proponents of DRM for digital music files, primarily the music companies, promote DRM as a way to ensure that artists (and those companies) get paid. Their fear is that without DRM people will just wildly copy music all over the place and the companies and the artists won't be paid. And to a certain degree this is probably a valid fear.

The problem is that to a user DRM is often a royal pain-in-the-neck.

If I have a physical CD that I rip into online music files on my system, I can then move those files to any other server, to another disk, to another music player, to another laptop. There is no DRM and I can just move those digital files around the same way that I could a physical CD. It makes it trivial when you find that all your music is filling up one system and you want to move it to another and have music play out of that system instead of the one you are using now.

With DRM-restricted music, you can't always do this. You have to authorize the new system. When I went to sync a new iPod to one of my systems, I had issues where it couldn't download the music because it wasn't authorized, etc., etc.

It makes me not want to buy music online.

Or, at least, DRM-restricted music. After having so many headaches recently with moving some music around when I was trying to free up room on a system, I decided that for a future purchase I was going to find DRM-free versions, even if it meant going out and purchasing the physical CD and ripping the CD into MP3s. Then, of course, I discovered the Amazon MP3 Downloads. Same basic prices as iTunes (cheaper in many cases) and without any DRM.

I own the digital music files and I can do with them whatever I want to do.

I can move them around. I can put them on different music players in my house.... basically everything that I can do with a physical media like a CD (or tape or album for those who remember such things). And yes, those who are unethical can of course copy them and give them to other people. But the point is that the digital media is now mine to do with as I wish exactly like the physical media is. I am in control.

I have therefore almost no incentive to purchase from the iTunes Music Store when I can get it from Amazon (unless, of course, the music is exclusively available in iTunes).

Steve Jobs wrote about this back in February 2007 when he wrote this:

The third alternative is to abolish DRMs entirely. Imagine a world where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats. In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players. This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat. If the big four music companies would license Apple their music without the requirement that it be protected with a DRM, we would switch to selling only DRM-free music on our iTunes store. Every iPod ever made will play this DRM-free music.

Today, it seems, Apple has reached that state... they said that 8,000,000 songs will be available DRM-free now and all 10,000,000 songs will be available soon. You will need to pay a bit more (and that extra 30 cents probably goes to the record companies) but at least it is mine and I can play it wherever and whenever I want.

That is why I was so pleased with the Apple announcement.

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