Whose stuff is it anyway?

SharingI started thinking about how we use certain social media services a couple of months ago and Alexander reinforced the path my thoughts were taking.

More recently, Allen Stern stated on FriendFeed "i think sharing on google reader is finished - the value for so many sharers has continued to drop from my perspective" which garnered a number of contrary responses.

The real issue as I see it is that the value offered by various services has not been lessened rather it has been altered since the emergence of mashups with data from multiple services all feeding in to each other.


Prior to aggregation services such as FriendFeed we looked at other services in isolation and everything had a set perceived value; you knew exactly what you were getting from your RSS reader or your social networking service.

Now we have aggregation and lifestreaming and it is becoming less clear where the boundaries of any function begin and end.


Lifestreaming is an over used term and is often employed when we really mean aggregation. Lifestreaming is traditionally more a Truman Show type experience (literally your life streamed) rather than aggregation which is the collection of your actions on different services in to one location, but what exactly is our stuff? Is our stream a record of our actions or a share of the content of others?

Are there now distinctions between sharing, aggregation, social bookmarking and the like or have they all merged in to one process? When are you just bookmarking as opposed to sharing? As Alexander said: it's about your intention but, with the way services like FriendFeed operate, is intention enough?

The social contract

I discussed before about the implied social contract of blogging which has caused a number of arguments over exactly what bloggers owe their audiences and perhaps we should be asking if an implied social contract should extend to the way we utilise sharing and aggregation services.

One aspect of FriendFeed, as an example, causes a big divide in opinion and that is the way in which it handles multiple instances of the same item.

Consider the following scenario:

  • User A has their Google Reader and Delicious streams fed in to FriendFeed
  • User B has their StumbleUpon and Social Median streams fed in to FriendFeed
  • User A shares a specific item in Google Reader and also bookmarks that item in Delicious
  • User B stumbles the same item and also clips it on Social Median

Two users have between them now created four instances of the same item within FriendFeed and other users will create further duplication upon sharing the same item.

Is this enabling a wider audience to discuss the same item leading to wider ranges of opinion or is it leading to a fragmentation of the conversation and cluttering peoples streams with useless duplicates?


With isolated services out intention was clear - we would bookmark something for our own reference or share an item to our link blog but now just about any action we perform becomes a 'share' if we have our online activities aggregated. This leads to a number of new questions:

  • do we share things differently based on where we know the share will be seen?
  • does our potential audience affect the actions we take on our subscribed services?
  • should we be tailoring our behaviour to our online environment and the community that we are a part of?

Prevously, a single action would have one consequence but with aggregation thrown in to the mix we set off a chain of events. A bookmark or a Digg is no longer just that, it also becomes a share which contributes to the duplication on our aggregation services so should we be asking ourselves whether we need to perform the initial act based on our environment or whether we actually need to have these streams aggregated in the first place?

If a number of our 'friends' have shared an item and it already has multiple conversation threads do we hold back so as not to muddy the waters or do we go ahead with the share to boost the item up the rankings of a particular service (ReadBurner for Google Reader shares for example) but at the risk of clogging up our streams with further duplicates?

Is this a conflict of interests? Should we help an item gain more exposure or should we accede to the implied social contract and not clutter the streams of those subscribed to our updates?

Social dilemma or over-analysing?

What do you think?

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Image by Andy Woo.

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Colin Walker Colin Walker colin@colinwalker.blog