Zuckerberg’s Law

Before I start, a brief apology for how long it’s been between entries.  I’ve been heads-down focused on getting the alpha release of CommYou out the door, and haven’t had the cycles to focus on blogging properly.  With any luck, now that that’s out, I can get back to a more regular schedule.

So, with that said, let’s restart by taking a look at this past weekend’s hot story: Zuckerberg’s Law.  This was described in the New York Times, quoting Mark Zuckerberg (the founder of Facebook) as saying:

I would expect that next year, people will share twice as much information as they share this year, and next year, they will be sharing twice as much as they did the year before.

Those in the field will recognize the echo of Moore’s Law, coined back in the 60s, saying (more or less) that computers would get twice as powerful every 18 months.  It’s a compelling (if slightly self-serving) assertion, and relevant to the topics here, so let’s talk about it a bit.

First, let’s get one thing out of the way: I doubt we’re talking about another Moore’s Law, likely to be literally true for decades.  This is simply because we’re dealing with fractions here: what percentage of “everything” is being shared.  Unless you believe that the total amount of data that is available to be shared is going to keep doubling every year (which is possible, but I’m skeptical), we’ll hit limits before terribly long.  It’s just barely possible that the amount not being shared will halve every year.

But let’s weaken Zuckerberg’s statement a little, and assume that the amount being shared is going to keep going up rapidly.  What are the implications if this is so?

I’ll assert that privacy is going to become ever more important.  People have been discovering this on Facebook: failure to keep stuff private is leading to frequent real-world consequences.  (For instance, consider the Patriots cheerleader who was recently fired due to a scandalous picture showing up online.)  On a more personal level, I think the digital native generation is getting the clue that it’s very easy to wreck relationships by saying too much online.

This being the case, everybody is probably going to move towards having at least some privacy controls.  This will probably hurt systems like Twitter, that are designed to be extremely open: I’d guess that they will gradually lose ground to competing tools that give the poster more control.  (Twitter might be able to introduce privacy controls, but I suspect it’ll be hard for them: it doesn’t fit the way the tool thinks at this point.)

On the flip side, this trend seems likely to sharpen the digital divide between generations.  The digital natives appear to be much more open at an instinctive level: they happily share things their parents wouldn’t have dreamed of.  And while I think they’ll learn some hard lessons and tighten up a bit as they get older, openness will probably remain their default.  That might have broad cultural ramifications, as sharing, rather than privacy, becomes the default.  America is famously more private than, say, some Asian countries; this might well shift over the next 50 years.

Finally, we’re going to see the rise of more tools that are focused on integration of data.  Social networking today is looking a lot like the Web before Google: there’s an enormous amount there, but it’s increasingly hard to find it.  I think as fondly of the days when all of my friends were just on LiveJournal as I did of the days when I could follow every new website as it came online.

At the moment, the data we’re sharing online is very fragmented: the serious digerati often have their online selves scattered across dozens of sites.  You can see the rise of integration already — indeed, you can tell that a site has Made It when everybody scrambles to import data from it — but it’s a haphazard pain in the tuchus right now.  In order to support ever-more sites sharing ever-more user-centric data, we’ll need ever-better standards for that sharing.

All of which leads me to one concrete prediction: if Zuckerberg is right, it means that his company will gradually stop being able to control the flow of information.  Currently, Facebook is in the driver’s seat: they dictate the terms of sharing a user’s information, often contrary to what the other companies and the user himself wants.  For now, they can get away with that because they’re the 800 pound gorilla.  But more information sharing will almost certainly lead to that information getting scattered ever more widely, which will lead to user demand for better integration.  And sites that use more open standards will do a better job of integrating, so Facebook is going to be dragged in that direction as well.

What do you think?  Are we looking at a more-social America in the coming decades?  Will open standards win out, or will Facebook manage to triumph as a partly-walled garden?  Is Zuckerberg correct in the first place, or do you think that sharing will find its level soon?

3 Responses to “Zuckerberg’s Law”

  1. metahacker Says:

    I think we’re starting to saturate the info-sharing space if you’re talking about actively-shared information: things you have to take an action to share. It’s just too much work to share a lot more info than we do currently, and many people have already maxxed out.

    Twitter (or Facebook’s status messages) is probably the most visible example of active sharing: you have to purposely say something, and then everyone can see it. (A generation of tech ago, this was done with IM “Away” messages, which GenY used as status messages before anyone knew they needed them.) Some folks use Flickr the same way, especially given how easy it is to push out a time/place-stamped picture currently. But there’s only so much of the day you can spend sending status messages, and while this number varies by person, I think we’re near the level of communicative effort most people want to expend.

    Where I see expansion occurring is in /passively/-collected information: current location being the killer app currently. (This was one of the features I was hoping for from the iPhone, but their policy of denying background 3rd-party-apps kills the ability to continually broadcast your location while having any sort of a useful device. If you did you’d be (a) stuck in one app, and (b) draining the battery like mad.)

    As we figure out what other info we can passively sense and broadcast from a person in the course of their day, I expect that info to make it into the shared sphere. Facebook already does this by broadcasting reports of your friends’ actions — peripheral awareness of actions, and it doesn’t require any extra work. And then they let conversation occur about each action, which is a great way to encourage community and make it worthwhile to pay attention to that action feed — because people want to know they have been seen, and show that they see.

    Steve Mann posited a world where everyone’s local video/audio stream — possibly including the view through their augmented ‘eyes’ — is accessible, and details some useful features of this. I’m not sure living someone else’s life at 1x speed is interesting, but reviewing? Tagging, and gathering interesting events from it, and summarizing? Those are really interesting possibilities.

    (Is there *any* way to provide feedback when comments occur, to enliven commenting on this blog? Put the RSS feed for responses into LJ or something?)

  2. Justin Says:

    Very good points, and a very interesting twist on the “lifecasting” fad. Indeed, it could almost become the killer app for lifecasting — not so much to passively watch the life of a strangers, but to share in the experiences of one’s friends. But it does go *way* into the sharing space, and implies a significantly different view of privacy.

    It’ll be interesting to see if Android impacts the iPhone’s background-app policy. I suspect you can run these sorts of ambient apps on Android, and if they prove powerful, it could be a significant edge for the platform. If that leads to it making real inroads on the iPhone, that would probably lead Apple to reconsider. (There are a bunch of “ifs” there, though.)

    Is there *any* way to provide feedback when comments occur, to enliven commenting on this blog? Put the RSS feed for responses into LJ or something?

    Good question. That idea hadn’t occurred to me, but it might be possible. Let me investigate. (In the medium term, the plan is to have linked CommYou conversations, but we’re a ways from being able to do that smoothly yet — I believe it would still be pretty clunky and manual at this point.)

  3. Justin Says:

    Okay, the answer is yes, although it’s poorly documented. I’ve added an LJ feed of “artofconvcmnt” for the comment feed…

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