Posts Tagged ‘privacy’

A sex columnist and a children’s book writer went out on a first date. The conversation flowed, the chemistry was palpable…but ultimately the children’s book writer decided there couldn’t be a second date. He was afraid his dating a sex columnist wouldn’t work for his career. True story.

I thought of this story again when I read Penelope Trunk’s recent post about being honest about who you are at work, in the context of Jason Collins’ coming out story in Sports Illustrated: “The more you hide, the harder it is to find a job that’s right for you.”

I think a lot about the post I wrote about the distinctions of public, personal, and private, especially when I’m talking to people about social media strategy. Because in order to be genuine, in order to connect with people in a deeper way, it’s often necessary to share some of the personal. But figuring out what’s personal and what’s private isn’t easy. And when the career you love and your private life (or alternate for-money career, as is the case for many artists) don’t quite mesh together, it’s hard to reconcile. Hence the children’s book writer making the tough decision not to date a woman in whom he was interested in order to avoid a later dilemma.

Our society is in the middle of a shift involving the availability of information and the level of connectedness between us. I met a book editor last month who complained about how often his writer Facebook friends posted about their politics and how much this bothered him. A decade ago, this wasn’t an issue. It’s so much easier to avoid talking much politics when you’re going out for drinks with your editor than it is to avoid posting about anything remotely politically every day. And even if you talked about politics over those drinks, that conversation has a different contextual place for both you and the editor than it does in a social media feed.

So we find ourselves wrestling with two related problems: having less control overall over the information the world can access about us, and having more of a platform from which to release our own information about ourselves, which means we have to decide what to say (and what not to say). In addition, we have to deal with the implications of all this information floating around (or the potential of it to be released) to our careers, to our loved ones, to our complicated social landscapes, and in terms of ethics.

Our lives as open books. Photo Credit: Honou via Compfight cc

These issues are exacerbated for artists because of our society’s collective difficulty in considering works of art as something apart from their creators. This is when we begin to see parents objecting to a children’s book because its author is not seen to be of sufficient moral character. I also know people who don’t want to go see the Ender’s Game movie this fall not because they object to any of the material they think they’ll see but because they don’t want to give money to Orson Scott Card. Certainly as content consumers we have every right to decide what art we will and won’t consume, but it is interesting watching the trends towards making that decision based on the creator instead of the work. Why is this change taking place? Because more information about these artists is generally available (both from themselves and from outside sources).

As privacy becomes less possible and we have less control over accessible personal information, it will become increasingly important to use our platforms to tell our own stories about ourselves. As Justine Musk says, “If you don’t tell your story, someone else tells it for you.”

It is going to become harder and harder to hide. Sometimes we might be able to make decisions like that children’s book writer and keep things simpler for ourselves. But other times, what’s at stake will be too important. And perhaps it’s at that point when having the platform and ability to communicate in your own way becomes the most important.

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Our notions of privacy are currently changing due to technology, and it’s an interesting time if you enjoy watching social trends. For example, head on over to Nathan Bransford’s blog and read his fascinating essay “Divorce in the Internet Era.” He gives us an intimate peek into how the experience of divorce has been changed by social media.

It’s not just divorce that has been affected. Social media has also transformed our ideas of social connection, of friendship, of the purpose and maintenance of strong ties vs. weak ties (ie acquaintances and people we met that one time–when was that?–and in a flash of enthusiasm connected on social media). It has affected how we do business, how we try to connect with a more specific audience, how we can succeed at marketing, and how we can fail. It has spawned the 1000 true fans theory.

And now with the announcement of Google Goggles (known officially as Project Glass), we see another potential radical social change: a world in which our goggles tell us everyone’s names and pertinent information when we meet. A world in which remembering names is less important. A world in which I can make notes for instant reference the next time we meet: “possible kindred spirit” or “didn’t bother to ask me a single question during a thirty-minute conversation” or “really likes discussing neuroscience but becomes enraged at the suggestion that humans don’t have free will.”

My own personal ideas of privacy have changed along with the times. Every time I post on the Internet, whether that be here on the blog or on the myriad of services I am encouraged to use, I try to remember to run a little filter check. If the whole world knows I said this, would I be okay with that? If the answer is yes, I’m good to go. And every time I remember to run this check (which probably isn’t 100% of the time because no one is perfect), I develop and refine my ideas about my own privacy, about what I’m willing to share as public information vs. what I wish to remain private. In a certain way, our society is shifting back to a village mentality, that there are certain things that everyone simply knows about everyone else. And anything we want to keep to ourselves, well, we have to really work at it…and some facts, as Nathan Bransford found, are impossible to keep under wraps.

I’m hoping this shift will come with a lessening of certain stigmas and an increased tolerance for difference. I have to hope for this because the alternative is not a world in which I want to live. Perhaps we’re already seeing evidence of this shift: contrast the open statements about President George W. Bush’s past alcoholism and President Obama’s past cocaine use with President Clinton in the ‘90s who felt it was necessary to claim he “didn’t inhale.”

On Twitter, Catherynne Valente said, “The Google Goggles herald the final death of any semblance of public manners and social courtesy. Hope we enjoyed it!” But I wonder if all these changes might eventually lead to a new kind of civility. Will there be certain secrets we allow each other to keep out of sheer politeness? In a world where everyone knows each others’ names, will our sense of community change? Maybe even expand? What kind of courtesy will be possible when we can have a computer keep track of our acquaintances’ interests and news and automatically remind us of them when we’re in conversation? Will intimacy feel like it’s shrinking (the way some people feel social media is causing it to do right now) or will it feel like it’s increasing?

It’s going to be really interesting to find out! The one thing I’m betting on is that we’ll have a bumpy transition as what is possible from technology changes at a different rate from society’s attitudes about privacy and social interaction. What do you think? What about this new world do you look at with dread? What about it sounds like it could be amazing?

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Earlier this week we covered Facebook’s new direction, including both the potential large upside for writers and the accompanying privacy concerns. But what about Google+? Where does it fit into this picture? (Disclaimer: my husband, you may remember, works on Google+, so I’m not an uninterested party here. Apparently I also need to tell you explicitly that these are my opinions and not his. So yes, all mine. Especially the brilliant parts.)

Google+ has only been public for a little more than a week, and has only been live at all for the past three months. So we’re still in the very early days, which means there is still a lot of room for conjecture. First, let’s talk about a few differences between Facebook and Google+ (although with all of FB’s recent changes, there are less of them than there were). I was happy to have independent verification that Google+ is not doing the creepy cookie thing that makes me so concerned about Facebook and its privacy. There’s also less chance of accidentally posting information you don’t want posted, which is always nice. With its recent integration of Hangouts (group video chat) with new tools, especially Google Docs and screen views, Google+ lends itself well to collaboration in creative, business, and educational fields (and even recreational). The Google+ stream is not filtered the way Facebook is; you see all the posts being shared with you, although not in straight reverse chronological order as sometimes new comments will make an old post jump back higher in your stream. Google+ has garnered a reputation for hosting more in-depth discussions and conversations and for being a great platform for meeting new people.

I’m reluctant to talk about Google+’s real names policy because I know that many people feel passionately about it and I don’t want this conversation to center only on that. Regarding writers, I will say that I don’t think it’s Google’s aim to penalize those of us who write under pseudonyms. I personally expect that once Google+ has matured a bit more, this policy will lose its relevance, if for no other reason than that Google will find it impossible to enforce such a policy. For writers in particular, as long as your pseudonym looks like a standard American name (ie first and last), the odds are that you won’t have problems. But it is a concern that Google needs to address in some way so that users feel completely comfortable investing in the site.

A baby hedgehog with a lot of potential… (Okay, you’ve got me, I just wanted to include a hedgehog photo.)

Why might writers consider being on Google+ right now?

1. Hatred of Facebook. It happens, and now there’s an alternative for having an online presence that is more conducive for conversation with fans and communities. Twitter can also do this, but it feels more ephemeral in time and is difficult for communicating more complicated ideas or sharing links (since they are truncated and therefore very mysterious). So this may partly depend on your style of communication, and of course, carries the downside of not having the sheer number of users as Facebook.

2. Early adopter status. One of the main benefits of this is getting a head start. Users who are early adopters tend to have large follower counts, both because they’ve been doing it longer and because they are present at the beginning when more people are looking for interesting content for their streams. For example, I have well over 1000 people following me on Google+ after three months, whereas I have friends in the three hundreds on both Facebook and Twitter.

3. If you are an sf/f writer, being active on Google+ right now is a no brainer, because guess what? Your fans make up a large portion of the current user base. Google+ is known to be particularly popular with the high-tech crowd, many of whom enjoy science fiction and fantasy. So the potential for building your fan base is very good. Not to mention that the artist communities (comic book artists, photographers, and writers in particular) are well represented as well–hence why Google+ is great for collaboration and networking.

4. Positioning. Writers want to be in the best place to take advantage of whatever changes may benefit them. Keeping up to date with what’s going on with these social platforms and understanding the basics of how they work means greater speed in adapting and leveraging them to work for you.

What I am most excited about, though, is the huge future potential of Google+. Remember how I said that it is becoming known as a great place to meet new people? Well, guess what the point of having a social media strategy is in the first place. Yes, that’s right: meeting new people in order to build a fan base. On Facebook, the vast majority of my friends are people I’ve met in real life. On Twitter, the vast majority of my followers are newer writers like myself, indie writers, and social media professionals who use words like SEO in their personal descriptions. I certainly have a fair number of writers following me on Google+ as well, but I’m also being followed by lots of..wait for it… normal people! I know, right? Who knew that could happen? And these people are all potential readers who might like my work. Plus, for an added bonus, they’re really interesting to talk to. So while I stand by my assertion that Facebook is great for more established writers due to its larger reach, Google+ is great for writers actively trying to build a fan base before they even have a publishing track record. If you read a lot about social media and writers, you have doubtless read how we’re all supposed to start building a “platform” a few years before our first novel hits the presses. Google+ seems positioned to be a powerful tool to do just that.

With its new search feature that came out last week, Google+ became a tool for discovery. I can now search for posts about subjects I care about on Google+, which is a great way to meet people. With its release of shared circles, in which users can take a screenshot of a current circle and share it with their followers, we’ve been given the means to share groups of people who we know are interested in photography, or current events, or reading, or whatever topic we want, which will also facilitate discovery. My hope is that Google will continue to pursue this line of development and begin to offer more advanced and refined methods of finding other users with similar interests.

Next week I’m planning to discuss ways for writers (or anyone else) to be interesting and discoverable on social media. And then maybe I’ll be able to tear myself away from this topic for long enough to talk about something else.

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There have been a lot of shifts in social media in the last few months. Google+ has entered the field and become known for its Hangouts (which can now even be broadcasted), its conversations, and its potential for collaboration. Facebook launches the rest of its redesign on or around September 30, including Timeline (the scrapbooking and record-keeping replacement of the profile and wall) and deep integration with applications, most notably media applications (music, movies, TV, news and articles, etc.).

First, a few more details about Facebook’s newest features. Its application integration will make it easy to automatically share information on the internet, from what article you’re reading to what recipe you’re cooking to what song you’re listening to. Once you give a certain app–whether that be Spotify, the Washington Post, or Hulu–permission to share your activities (you only need to give this permission one time ever per app), it will stream all your behavior directly to Facebook without you having to make additional clicks for each item you’re sharing. The idea is that this will make it easier for people to serendipitously discover media based on what their friends are doing, and there are already discussions about how this could be revolutionary for the music industry in particular (not to mention a possible savior of the faltering print news organizations). All of these application updates will be shown in the scrolling ticker box on the righthand side of your screen, as well as being recorded on your Timeline. (I’ve also already seen some of them creeping into the News Feed.) And speaking of the Timeline, you (and your friends) will be able to see anything and everything you’ve ever put up on Facebook.

What I’m interested in is how these changes will affect possible social media strategies for writers (although much of what I’m thinking may affect other creatives as well). First, Facebook. Honestly, it is difficult (although not impossible) to avoid strategies that don’t incorporate Facebook in some way, either through a personal account or through Facebook Pages, at least not for writers who have at least one novel published. Once you have fans, Facebook becomes logical since it has the largest user base, therefore making it much more convenient as a way for people to find you. The less of a niche market you’re targeting, the more important Facebook becomes. Having an author website and/or blog is great, but following a blog, whether through RSS, bookmarks, or email subscription, takes a greater level of engagement and commitment than simply liking an author page, and therefore Facebook gives writers a greater reach, allowing them to keep a larger fan base updated as to their activities and upcoming releases.

Once the changes to the Open Graph (aka the applications) roll out, Facebook offers even more advantages to the established writer. While I didn’t see Amazon, B&N, or Goodreads on Facebook’s truncated graphic of partners, that graphic by no means represents their complete list of media partners. Rest assured that one way or another, you’ll be able to share the books you’re reading through this system sometime in the not-so-distant future. Factor in the burgeoning e-book market, and it doesn’t take a social media expert to figure out that Facebook will play an even larger role in book marketing. The ticker feed, through which uses will share without even having to remember to do so beyond granting the initial permissions, has huge potential for increasing word-of-mouth on books people are reading, and word-of-mouth is among the very best of marketing that a book or business can receive. This is a big deal, dear writers, not just for the music and newspaper industries but also for the publishing industry. And hopefully you are beginning to see why I think refusing to be on Facebook as a writer carries a hefty cost. Granted, you’ll receive the ticker word-of-mouth regardless of whether you have an account, but how much better if a user finds you via Facebook and is then able to Like your page?

However, I do have serious concerns about the privacy implications of these new features, which seem to me to be ultimately much more about what’s good for Facebook and advertisers than what’s good for the users. Of course, this is all very new and not even rolled out for most users, but I’ve already had a friend who accidentally shared that he had read an article on a controversial subject. Not a great sign, and obviously Facebook users will have to stay really on top of their sharing. Plus there have recently been allegations that Facebook monitors everywhere you visit through your browser, even if you are logged out (through cookies, for those of you technically cognizant people), which means you could be sharing an awful lot of information with them (often without even realizing it). If this is true (it is certainly technically possible), there are measures that can be taken to minimize this while still using Facebook, like denying all apps access to your account, using an incognito window of the Chrome browser for Facebook and not opening any other tabs in that window, or using a dedicated browser for just Facebook (ex. if you use Firefox for your normal internet usage, you can download Chrome and use it for only Facebook). But I worry that these potential security problems and accompanying measures might be too confusing for many writers to understand and implement.

My other concern has to do with noise. If everyone on Facebook is sharing all their daily activities with everyone else, literally every movie, song, TV show, hike, meal, book, article, run, sleep cycle, etc., how effective will this be as a marketing strategy? Will significant numbers of people actually discover new authors and books through their tickers, or will any such discovery be drowned out by the sheer overwhelming volume of information? We will have to wait and see how sophisticated Facebook’s ranking abilities are–will they be able to skillfully filter and show users information that is actually of interest? Will they be able to choose your friends who have a similar taste in books to you? Possibly, but right now it’s anybody’s guess.

At the present moment, Facebook is a powerful tool enabling writers to reach their readers. I plan to continue to use it, while staying very aware of what’s going on with my privacy and taking measures to alleviate Facebook’s intrusion into my life. As skeptical as I am that I will find enjoyment hearing every detail about what my many Facebook friends are liking/reading/watching/eating/listening to, I am sure I can survive at least five to ten minutes per week to keep up a minimal presence on the site. However, I can’t find fault with those writers who are concerned enough about their privacy to opt out of using Facebook.

So where does that leave Google+? Tune in on Thursday and I’ll tell you what I’m thinking.

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