Privacy and Social Networks

ATM Privacy Area, by Cackhanded. CC via FlickrMark Ury has a great post on Privacy at his blog The Restless Mind. As I said in my comment on his Blog, I’d like to make an observation about why managing privacy (and other rules of social etiquette) is even harder than it seems.

Real social networks have actual humans as the end points in the graph. Complicated, technology independent humans. I have dozens, perhaps even hundreds of social networks I participate in, and each one has its own complex rules of etiquette and privacy, even when the membership of the network is mostly or even completely the same. In fact, it’s those rules that really define the network itself: the people I trust with my kids, the people I gossip with at work, or the group of cousins in my family that happen to be around the same age. Each of these is defined as much or more by what we do together (the “social grooming” as Robin Dunbar calls it), as by the membership, which may be mostly or even entirely the same. One reason for why these rules especially difficult to express in software is that these networks (especially the ones most established in my life) are typically multi-modal by nature. Take the network of “the people who love and care for my kids”, as an example: some are in FB, some are email-only, and some (like my Gramma) offline entirely. We humans are very typically very good at picking up on and managing these social “rules”, but often have difficulty migrating those rules to a new or unfamiliar modality of communication. As the number ways in which we can communicate with each other increases (more rapidly all the time, it seems), the harder it becomes to manage the complex social rules that govern human interactions.

Kinzin’s approach to this problem is to build what we call “Virtual Private Social Networks”. You decide on the rules and membership of the network, independent of the communications technology. This is obviously easier with smaller networks, and where the level of trust and familiarity is high, so that’s where we’ve focused ourselves. These Are My Kids lets a network of close friends and family share information about the family’s kids. The rules for privacy are set by the parents, and the invited members of the network can use (nearly) any medium they like to access the network: Facebook, email, postal mail, etc. This way, busy parents can spend their time thinking about what it is they want to say, and not worrying about how or where to say it.

Advertisements

Booksimreading: The Wealth of Networks…


As part of an effort to think more and do less, I just started reading a new book: “The Wealth of Networks; How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom“, by Yochai Benkler. What do I think so far, after the first 30 pages?

“At the beginning of the 21st century, we find our selves in the midst of a battle over the institutional ecology of the digital environment,” says Benkler. “What characterizes the networked information economy is that decentralized individual action plays a much greater role than it did or could have (before)”… “the removal of the physical constraints on effective information production has made human creativity and the economics of information itself the core structuring facts (of our economy and our society).” Just as the proprietors of the new printing presses of europe used their economic clout to gain independence from the church and aristocracy, people today, both individually and in groups, are exploiting the economics of the internet to take on massively ambitious projects. An important difference, though is that they are often taking on these projects just because they feel like it, and not for economic reasons.
Friendship Wheel Collage, by choconancy.
It’s this idea that first caused me to pick up this book, actually. The amplification of the individual human as a social creature, as opposed to a “market actor”. This is a major change in thinking for some. Capital is less important than it has been in the past. Groups of individuals, acting from motivations unrelated to economics, can often organize themselves more quickly and effectively than a corporation can. I find this idea exhilarating. More as I read along…

Extending and enhancing an existing network


Here’s a comment to my previous blog post. It seems important enough to promote it to a post of it’s own. Personally, I walked away from the McCrae Alumni weekend very impressed. Here’s a group of people who have built a (human) network that transcends the institution that initialized it. Below is an example of the group’s internal discussion. Good suggestions, and thanks for letting me be a part of the unfolding dialogue.

Hey thanks for buying the power assited bike Michael.

I think I asked a question about effective practices that each McRae alum could engage in immediately: (1) on existing social networks like Linkedin, Facebook and MySpace, and (2) what are the most effective ways we can project our power as a network, i.e., what are some good examples of other successful networks of people who have projected power?

A couple of answers that occurred to me:
RE: effective practices on existing social networks …

  • we need to be consistent in the name we use for our program. Because “the Program” has changed names some call it McRae, other APMCP, others Cap. Consistent name and tags would make our profiles and comments easier to find,
  • be a good follower. Charles Caldwell introduce many of us McRae folks to Linked in within a year of its founding, most of us didn’t take it seriously. Many still have not spend a lot of time moving their contacts in. I didn’t spend anytime on Linkedin until I noticed that a guy who is at least 5 years older than me and commands millions (maybe billions) of investment funds and put $50-million into our project in China had 80 contacts there. For example, if someone opens McRae Facebook group … join, comment … it take seconds.
  • do business with fellow alum, refer them for jobs, collaborate, coinvest, help your fellow lobsters out of the pot (Canadians usually spend thier time pulling each other back into the pot! who said pot?),
  • practical recoms for the alum website – expand the profiles, add some mapping/geotagging, let each person add photos and attach business plans/documents to share to their profiles, add RSS feeds for each profile and the whole site so that when anyone contributes content the network gets the intel,
  • I wonder if now is the right stage for philanthropy efforts. Sure if a fellow alum is running for a cause by all means, but if we are raising $20,000 as a group for something, should we be reinvesting directly in the network (improve website, hire someone to write a report on where the alum network goes from here, particularly if Cap is out of the picture completely).

Good introductory presentation on the changes that are effecting everyone.
Thanks

You’re welcome. Thanks for letting me be a small part of it!

How to organize yourselves

This last weekend (August 23rd), I was speaking to Alumni of the McCrae Institute of International Management about the social shifts taking place today as a result of the Internet. “Groups of people can organize quickly and efficiently and make their voices heard,” I said. “The locus of control is shifting from corporations to people, with powerful implications for politics, marketing, product development.” In response, I got the obvious question: “how?” Recognizing that I took the answer to that question for granted a little, here is a short treatise on the ways groups of people (such as the McCrae Alumni) can make finding each other and getting together a little bit easier. In the end, you’ll need to have a motivated, passionate, and involved group of people to get anything done, of course. That problem hasn’t been solved with technology, at least not yet ;-).

  • Get involved in the Blogosphere. Create your own blog (typepad is good, so is wordpress. I use blogger). Find others who share your interest who blog, and comment on their blogs. Link to their blogs from your blog. Blog about their blogs. Strike up conversations. Talking, linking, and generally letting people know what you’re about and that you want to connect is how it all begins.
  • Get set up on LinkedIn. Make sure you fill out the “additional information” section at the bottom of your profile with relevant details of your interests and affiliations, and make sure your “contact settings” encourage people to contact you. Actively search for contacts, and invite people you know.
  • Find your friends on Facebook. I’m a little more wary of Facebook’s privacy policy and terms of service, but if you’re careful about not revealing non-essential information you should be fine. When you’re filling in your profile information, don’t forget to put information in the other tabs (to the right of the “basic” tab) that will make it easier for people to search for you.
  • Create or join a private or public discussion group. You can use Yahoo! Groups, Google groups, or Ning. Try to use them more than point-to-point communications like email and IM. These days, I like Pownce. …and I hear Jumpnote is going to totally kick butt when it comes out of alpha.
  • Most importantly, follow your passion: find out where people are already gathering and add your voice.

Hey Blogosphere: any other keen suggestions for a motivated and savvy, but loosely knit, group of people who are hoping to get more organized?

An equitable arrangement

Home Economics
Thanks to Springwise for bringing this to my attention: Home Equity Share. An interesting twist on P2P lending, illustrating yet again how stale the mainstream financial industry has become, and how a little creative thinking can go a long way in that space. Here’s how it works:

It matches investors, who want to get into the real estate market, but don’t want monthly payments or tenants, with buyers who have cash flow to make mortgage payments, but don’t have a downpayment. The buyer can acquire the investor’s share at a later date, or they can agree to sell the property and share the appreciation. Simple, really.

It's a Cozy Home in My NeighborhoodNot that it doesn’t have it’s challenges (the mid-2007 subprime mortgage meltdown), but it has the advantage that this sort of arrangement is really quite common. Parents helping their kids buy their first house, for example. If you don’t have parents who can help you financially in this way, Home Equity Share will find you a “surrogate”. So far, the company doesn’t seem to be leveraging existing social networking applications to connect people together who are likely to have a higher degree of trust due to smaller “degrees of separation”, but that’s an obvious extension.

How do you say Peer-to-peer in Mandarin?


One more update on P2P lending: here is a Chinese P2P lending project called PPDAI. It turns out that most lending in China (not much of a surprise) is P2P (the old-school, IRL type), usually between relatives. Most Chinese don’t have access to bank financing, apparently. This could be amazing to watch: 1.3 Billion peers… wow.

Update: More on bypassing the Banks


I posted earlier on a peer-to-peer lending project called CommunityLend (love the logo, by the way), which is still as yet unlaunched. Here’s another interesting angle: a facebook plugin. Using existing social networks to make (presumably better-trusted) connections between lenders and borrowers. LendingClub has this to say for themselves:

Now that Lending Club is available to Facebook members, person-to-person lending on Facebook is finally possible. “Chip wants to pay off his crazy 18% credit cards; can you chip in $100? You’ll get $110 next year, and even better, you’ll know you helped him out and you may also earn a seat at his debt-free celebration dinner.” Your real friends will even validate the purpose of your loan, and strengthen your desire to live up to it.

And more formally:

Lending Club is an online lending community where people can borrow and lend money, bypass the banks, and get better rates. By working together, members can borrow money more easily and at a better rate than they would get from a bank, or invest in a portfolio of loans at higher rates than those served by savings accounts or CDs. A proprietary technology called LendingMatch™ helps match lenders with borrowers using connections established through social networks, associations and online communities, and build diversified portfolios based on lender preferences.

Their blog has some interesting content discussing P2P lending, and financial advice more generally for the Facebook set. Some articles are quite interesting, including this one on loan pricing. LendingClub is currently open to Facebook users, and plans to expand beyond (presumably to other social networks) soon.