Thursday, January 18, 2007

A world without secrets?

What happens when there are no secrets?

Clive Thompson, a magazine writer working on a piece for Wired, is asking blog readers what they think about that, and related questions. You can read his pitch here (if you can read that tiny typeface).

I thought there were implications for us worth thinking about. Here are the big ideas he advances:

- Secrecy Is Dead: The pre-Internet world trafficked in secrets. Information was valuable because it was rare; keeping it secret increased its value. In the modern world, information is as plentiful as dirt, there's more of it than you can possibly grok on your own -- and the profusion of cameraphones, forwarded emails, search engines, anonymous tipsters, and infinitely copyable digital documents means that your attempts to keep secrets will probably, eventually, fail anyway. Don't bother trying. You'll just look like a jackass when your secrets are leaked and your lies are exposed, kind of like Sony and its rootkit. Instead ...

- Tap The Hivemind: Throw everything you've got online, and invite the world to look at it. They'll have more and better ideas that you could have on your own, more and better information than you could gather on your own, wiser and sager perspective than you could gather in 1,000 years of living -- and they'll share it with you. You'll blow past the secret-keepers as if you were driving a car that exists in a world with different and superior physics. Like we said, information used to be rare ... but now it's so ridiculously plentiful that you will never make sense of it on your own. You need help, and you need to help others. And, by the way? Keep in mind that ...

- Reputation Is Everything: Google isn't a search engine. Google is a reputation-management system. What do we search for, anyway? Mostly people, products, ideas -- and what we want to know are, what do other people think about this stuff? All this blogging, Flickring, MySpacing, journaling -- and, most of all, linking -- has transformed the Internet into a world where it's incredibly easy to figure out what the world thinks about you, your neighbor, the company you work for, or the stuff you were blabbing about four years ago. It might seem paradoxical, but in a situation like that, it's better to be an active participant in the ongoing conversation than to stand off and refuse to participate. Because, okay, let's say you don't want to blog, or to Flickr, or to participate in online discussion threads. That means the next time someone Googles you they'll find ... everything that everyone else has said about you, rather than the stuff you've said yourself. (Again -- just ask Sony about this one.) The only way to improve and buff your reputation is to dive in and participate. Be open. Be generous. Throw stuff out there -- your thoughts, your ideas, your personality. Trust comes from transparency.

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