almost 9 years on 2010-01-18


(for starters, just a note that i am posting this en route sfo to jfk at 300 mph and 30k feet... first time actually using in-flight wifi -- call me a child of an earlier century, but this is totally mind blowing.)

over the last week or so i have received a bunch of emails and dms asking me whether or not i agree with zuckerberg's statement that publicity is the new social norm.

first, to be clear upfront, from what i have seen that isn't exactly what he said -- it is how several blogs decided to paraphrase it... but for sake of argument let's pretend that is the 'quote' we are working from --

i think this is because's mandate is private sharing people expect that i disagree with this general encapsulation. the reality is that i think the concept that publicity is the new social norm is spot on... and was actually founded on the premise that for the first time in human history publicity had become the norm, and privacy was becoming the premium service.

to explain, in late 2007 when we started and started talking about simple private sharing i had a slide in my presentation that looked like this:

the voice over to the slide went like this:

for all of human history privacy has been inexpensive relative to publicity. if i wanted to have a private conversation with you 2,000 years ago, we could sit down for a beer - much as we do today. if we were both hanging out in rome, the cost of organizing that beer and exchanging some private words hasn't changed much. if 2,000 years ago i wanted to broadcast something to the entire world it would have been almost impossible, and require an immense amount of time and, for the first time in history, it is actually easier and cheaper to be public than it is to be private. publicity is cheap and privacy is expensive.

now, if i want to share text/audio/video/etc. with an enormous number of people, facebook, youtube, twitter, etc. are happy to oblige me with fast, efficient, and free services. if i want to share the same text/video/audio/etc. with just my mom, the services offerings are in general not as good, and as a rule paid in some way shape or form. looks to borrow the best design patterns from public sharing services (where all the innovation of late has gone) and make private information and media sharing as efficient as possible on a premium model.
publicity is most certainly now the norm, and for the first time in history 'privacy' is what we pay for. the lines have crossed for the first time in history, and they are not crossing back.

of course, this begs the question, how did we get here? the answer is that it is all purely the result of economics. advertising driven businesses margins go up the more a given piece of content is consumed. whether i am sharing a video with one person or with a billion the economic structure of the content can be generally understood as:

revenue/value: advertising rate (cpm, cpa, whatever) * number of impressions + [ viral value of new user * new users ]
- costs: [ (sourcing/production) + upload + conversion + storage size * time], downstream bandwidth * number of times viewed.

if my content is private and is only used/viewed once, i need to incur the upload, conversion, storage, every time. if my content is public and viewed a billion times, i can amortize all of those costs and my margins improve. so, any advertising driven business at the most fundamental level will always tend towards being public. (obviously, the above is just basic math. for smarter players the value of a view/impression, etc. is much more than just the revenue you directly extract from it... in fact, for explicitly virally grown systems, the more you share the more you get.)

why does this mean people tend to go public? because the same math applies for you as an individual. it is pure economics. if you have an incremental piece of information, you want to 'sell' it in the market in return for as much physical capital/social capital as you can get, and it no longer pays to be private, because even for trivial almost worthless pieces of information like 'eating lunch' has some positive value in some way shape or form to someone.... your cost of broadcasting that information has become so ridiculously low, that there is actually positive value to moving it both for you and for your service provider.

my revenue/value for a piece of content: number of people listening * (social credit + ?sometimes a rev share?)
- costs: capturing/creating it + inputing it -

which leads me to heidi montag... i was blown away reading us weekly (or something like that) over some woman's shoulder on the f train a few days ago. what i basically took away from the article is that heidi basically pre-exposed tons of really person information/pictures/etc about her plastic surgery issues proactively. this is mind-blowing as a child of an earlier time, but very clearly the right move by team heidi management. this is not just about a publicity stunt. heidi is working the new modern reality to a t.

the logic is simple: in our brave new world it would have been infinitely expensive to keep private that heidi had surgery (the days of presidents secretly in wheelchairs are over).

so, team heidi options are: 1. embrace it and harvest the content for value amp control the initial spin or 2. let someone else profit from the content and incur the same costs without any upside. clearly, you go public.

is the fundamental cost structure shift of content and the resulting cultural sift good/bad? i am not sure. but it is very profound... it changes basically everything - down to strategies for privacy, which move from trying to keep information off the grid, to just flooding the grid.... and based on the new interest in privacy resulting from this and some of the offshoot conversations from my 2000, 2010, 2020 discussion... next post is my full current thinking on content.

original swl blogposts and letters 2007-2010