The Private Web

by Krishna on January 20, 2009

Although Web 2.0 websites have allowed more people to produce volumes of content for public consumption, a lot of web content still remains hidden. Some of this is related to privacy. Obviously, you don’t want the whole world to read your Inbox. However, there are other reasons why good content remains trapped or obscure:privacy

  1. Using the default privacy mechanisms: For example, Harry takes 100 photos on his trip to his relatives. Most of the photos contain images of him or his relatives, but he also take a few stunning photos of the landscape (the mountains and lakes). Unfortunately, he puts all the photos in one folder and marks it as private. He never took some time to mark the landscape photos as public, and so those photos are never seen by anyone.
  2. Not understanding copyright law: The fewer restrictions you put on your content, the faster it will travel. Putting your content in the public domain or using a Creative Commons license allows other publishers to consume them and link back. Content that is not linked to by anyone is effectively hidden from and useless to others.
  3. Having a conflict with one’s image: Imagine, if you will, a Senator who rails at Wall Street every opportunity he gets, and grills executives at Senate hearing. Now, imagine what would happen if the Senator publishes romantic poems or videos of him playing with a cat. OK, maybe I am stretching here. But quite often, the content generated by people’s hobbies can conflict with their public persona.
  4. Trying to be consistent: A developer starts working as a Java developer and, over the years, creates some beautiful code samples (which she never posted publicly). After seeing what dynamic languages, she becomes disillusioned with Java. Although she can post those samples now, she doesn’t want to be seen promoting Java when she is advocating Python and Ruby.
  5. Being too careful: People don’t want to take chances with content that could be embarrassing for them in the future. I don’t mean dorm pictures. Even opinions and predictions can do that. It could be more worse than awkward: Someone could sue you for providing advice that lead to financial loss.
  6. Having a different comfort factor: We are all on a sliding scale from extreme extrovert to extreme introvert. Some people are just not comfortable with revealing much about themselves on the Web. You can see this in social networking sites. Some users (Robert Scoble) are very active, participating in every site possible, but others do not even sign up.
  7. Fear of theft: Theft and plagiarism run rampant on the Internet. If you spent a lot of time and effort on an artistic creation, you don’t want someone to rip it off. This fear is a little overblown. The truth is that your content is more (several levels of magnitude more) likely to be ignored than stolen. So, except for the very popular creators, piracy is not much of a problem. But still, some people are paranoid.

My point with this article is that there is further scope for some Web 2.0 sites to grow further, if they can address some of these concerns. Absolute anonymity, for example, could perhaps allow many creators to make their content public. Unfortunately, anti-terror laws may be in opposition to such privacy.

Educating users about copyright and Creative Commons may be helpful. For example, a photo sharing application could determine (with some kind of algorithm) that certain photos do not contain any human beings and inform the user that they could share them with the rest of the community.

[Photo adapted and licensed from thexbeautyxofxlove]

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