How boundaries are formed in a more transparent world

Last night at the Social Business Tweetup in San Francisco, I had a conversation with Stowe Boyd about new ways boundaries will be constructed in a world of increased transparency. In the personal world and the business world, more is transparent, boundaries are more porous; boundaries continue to exist, and are created in some different ways.

Signal to noise. When constant streams of talk and data are available, the biggest need is for tools and affordances to manage attention and improve signal to noise. This is a difficult design problem – Facebook, for example, has moved away from hard-to-use individual controls, in favor of not-very-useful algorithmic filters.

Social context I talked at the party to someone working on a startup that is providing tools, analogous to Twibes but with different use cases, to make visible ad hoc groups on Twitter. Even in a public stream, people need ways of paying focused attention to sets of other people.

Shared identity creation. Stowe talked about a changing understanding about disclosure – a privacy-focused model imagines the individual as a source of identity information that is shared. An alternative model imagines aspects of identity as being created within the contexts of subcultures. This view of identity formation isn’t new. But thinking about identity in this way in a digital context leads, for example, to different ways of thinking about decentralized profile information. Maybe you don’t make a central profile and share aspects of it, but create aspects of a profile in a subculture context and choose what to aggregate.

Social thickness Even when conversations are publicly visible, not all conversations are socially accessible. There are purely social norms and processes of group formation, with different levels of social ties operating in social context where everyone can nominally see what’s happening. These are enacted at the level of talk and patterns of reply. Social network analysis can see some of this, the sensitive question is to what end, since the social processes are subtle, and algorithmic approaches are unsubtle (think Facebooks’ reminders to get in touch with people who are famous or people you don’t talk to for good reasons.)

Power at the interface Organizations continue to have boundaries. Naive uses of social media put powerless “watchers” at the boundaries – the representative of Citibank who tells me soothing words when Citi blocks my card yet again, because I shop in batches, but has no power to affect their algorithm or their design for transaction verification. Better would be internal collaboration at the boundary, allowing the organization to react with power to signals it watches for.

Stowe has been talking about his take on these trends using the term publicy. The consequences of these trends for business will be discussed at the upcoming Social Business Edge conference on April 19 in New York.

10 thoughts on “How boundaries are formed in a more transparent world”

  1. Hi,
    I take an "inside" view of the isue and look at the people interacting. From that point it is about context – the context of the people and the context of the interaction,I call it Icentered paradigm and place the individual at the center with the keys in her hands to define privacy and publicy, boundraies and spectrum, sharing or exposing as a personal choice. I elaborated on it following Stowe Boyde’s post in http://www.icentered.com/on-privacy-and-publicy…

    This comment was originally posted on A Social Interaction Design (SxD) blog on Web 2.0 & Social Media

  2. Re: social thickness – I strongly agree, the map is not the territory – the measurements of social network analysis are absolutely not the social network. Indeed, expressing explicit data about the social network is an highly perilous act – as Google found out when they "merely" published one’s email contacts, and organizations find out as they take advantage of highly touted "metrics" features in social platforms to expose other formerly implicit aspects of social relations.

    This comment was originally posted on A Social Interaction Design (SxD) blog on Web 2.0 & Social Media

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