Social Media is a lot about sharing. Prior to the growth of social software, it wasn't that people did not share stuff -- they just did it offline or via email. Now we share at a massive scale and a lot more easily.
Some things we are willing to share "openly"
- Music playlists (Last.fm)
- Books we read (iread, shelfari)
- Calendars and Travel plans (google calendar)
- Status updates (via Twitter and Microblogging)
- Restaurant recommendations (yelp)
- Knowledge and expertise (via Wikipedia)
As we start to experiment with social software we realize that sharing is good and soon become open to sharing a lot more. There are some things though, that just seem semi-social. What I mean by Semi-Social is roughly "Thing I would not mind sharing with a small group of trusted friends and family members".
Until just a few years back there would have been a lot more people squirming if they were asked to share such 'sensitive data' with others. I see this perception slowly eroding away. There is a small, albeit enthusiastic bunch experimenting with new tools that fall into the category of Semi-Social.
Some cases that I can think of are as follows:
- Investment portfolio: One example is Covestor. I have an account there but it is under pseudonym. I would not be that enthusiastic to reveal my pathetic attempt to bet on the stock market by watching (mostly tech) blogs. sigh!
- TV watching habits: I think Television as we know it today is completely broken. There is no social aspect to it whatsoever. At ICWSM, Noor Ali-Hassan presented a paper on "Social Media Scenarios for Television". What struck me about this talk was her statement that "Despite its social nature, there is a private aspect of TV that people want to preserve".
- Income and financial information: This is something we had least anticipated. How did we get to a point where I am actually not that scared while putting all my bank details and credit card information into a site like Mint? Mint is not a social site as such. But it reflects how we are now willing to part with some really sensitive data. In contrast, there are other examples of recruitment sites like SimplyHired where people reveal their salary information and can search for companies by salary. A more recent startup that is quite similar is Glassdoor.
- Location: Location can be an extremely sensitive piece of information. Fortunately, Yahoo's fireeagle provides access control for various applications and one can set the privilege that each app has to access location information (latlong, zip, state, country etc).
There will always be some who are at the extreme end of the spectrum and are quite comfortable with being completely (publicly) transparent about "sensitive data". However, most would still only dare to share some of this data with close friends and select people -- i.e. if there is enough value proposition in it for them. Some would be comfortable with aggregate analysis over the data as long as they are not personally identified or targeted in some way (advertising or otherwise).
Although it requires a great deal of courage (to work with privacy sensitive data), the opportunity to invent in the semi-social space may be quite a bit.