Voluntary personal information sharing is most beautiful–and most powerful–when freely shared under circumstances chosen by the information holder. Today, however, we severely limit our power when we choose to share our information in closed sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and others. In those cases, we’re limited to sharing under rules set by those sites, and only to people who also agree to those closed practices.
Those sites are holding our information hostage, and the advertisers and marketing industry is paying wildly to keep this arrangement as a new status quo. This isn’t where we started though. Tim Berners-Lee reminds us that the web was built from “a profound concept: that any person could share information with anyone else, anywhere.” In a Scientific American article entitled Long Live the Web: A Call for Continued Open Standards and Neutrality, Berners-Lee states,
Several threats to the Web’s universality have arisen recently. Cable television companies that sell Internet connectivity are considering whether to limit their Internet users to downloading only the company’s mix of entertainment. Social-networking sites present a different kind of problem. Facebook, LinkedIn, Friendster and others typically provide value by capturing information as you enter it: your birthday, your e-mail address, your likes, and links indicating who is friends with whom and who is in which photograph. The sites assemble these bits of data into brilliant databases and reuse the information to provide value-added service—but only within their sites. Once you enter your data into one of these services, you cannot easily use them on another site. Each site is a silo, walled off from the others. Yes, your site’s pages are on the Web, but your data are not. You can access a Web page about a list of people you have created in one site, but you cannot send that list, or items from it, to another site.
While these sites offer a social networking benefit, they jail us with inconveniences and rules that disallow the sharing of our lives outside of their fortress. We at I Shared What?!? look forward to the days when we’re empowered to share according to our own rules, in our own ways.