Contextual sharing using aspects
If you are on Diaspora, then you probably already know that Diaspora
allows you to share different facets of your personality and life with
different people through the use of so-called aspects. You can
be a professional towards your boss, a friend towards your friends and
an activist to like-minded people. This ability to share different
things with different people is called “contextual sharing”. The basic
principle here is that you adjust your behaviour based on your audience.
Diaspora’s concept of contextual sharing is very innovative. You can
tell so by the fact that Google copied the feature for its own social
network, Google+. Contextual sharing allows people to better express
themselves by taking into account the different audiences they are
dealing with. However, there is one field that is not covered by
contextual sharing, and that field is massive! It is called public
Public content is all that can be seen by people with whom you are
not yet connected. They are the random folks who visit your public
profile. Because these people are not in your aspects, you cannot adjust
your actions based on them. You may not even know that they are
watching you. You don’t know who they are. This leads us to the big
question: what information do I want to make publicly available to
strangers and how will this influence their opinion of me?
Take a shave, brush your teeth, eat an apple
Took shave, brushed teeth, ate apple, wears suit, got the job
I’m sure a lot of people are wondering about the consequences of
their public posts. Future employees may well be crawling your public
web pages to get a decent impression of you. As such, most people are
very focused on giving strangers the right impression when it
comes to public content, where “right” often means “socially
acceptable”. This pressure to be right often goes beyond being who we
really are and as a result, we do not post some of our thoughts. Being a
huge fan of diversity and new ideas, I believe that’s a shame.
In other cases, people couldn’t care less and so continue posting
their thoughts uncensored. Although I feel a certain admiration for
those people – not giving a fuck about what people think of you is EPIC!
– I wouldn’t recommend posting your deepest inner feelings and thoughts
as you’ll get seriously burned at some point. Like not being able to
find a job or getting caught as a possible suspect in a murder case.
Behaving in a socially acceptable way can be important!
Questionable public posts
There are basically two categories of public posts that we send down the drain while trying to be socially acceptable. I call these: “keeping a secret in public” and “not wanting to bother people”. I’ll give some examples for both categories.
Keeping a secret in public
“Why keep a secret in public?” you ask. “A secret in public is not a
secret at all, right?” Untrue! Sometimes you want to keep something
secret from people you know while still sharing it with those you don’t.
This way it will remain a secret, or at least to some people!
Here are two examples:
- I used to play Runescape until about half a year ago. The overall
opinion is that Runescape is an ugly, stupid game for 12-year-olds.
Runescapers know that and so often choose not to tell their friends at
school about it, for fear of becoming the laughingstock of their class.
In a social networking situation, this means they won’t be able to post
publicly about their favorite game, as their friends will notice that
they play “that pathetic game”.
- I listen to Viking Metal. Yes, I really do. The band is called
Ensiferum and I totally love the epic sounds they spit out. Not the
screaming, but the powerful drums and guitar riffs. No one in my
surroundings seems to be fond of it though, so I keep it to myself and I
put the volume down when my mum is coming up the stairs. I’m following
the tag in my stream but I won’t post any songs to avoid a
Ensiferum - JJJAAAAAARRRRRGGHHHHH!!!
Not wanting to bother people
The second category is slightly more obvious. These are the posts
that would normally go into your aspects if it weren’t for the fact that
there are people out there with whom you are not connected but who
would love to take part in your discussion. In order to reach these
folks, you will have to bother your existing contacts with unwanted
- I’m studying accountancy. Accountants are boring. They are dusty and
old. Placing check marks is extremely uninteresting. Who would want to
have to listen to what an accountant has to say? Exactly, no one outside
the business. Also, why would customers be interested in my personal
life, double rainbows and silly pictures?*
- Religion: stop bothering me with your faith, I do not believe in God and I never will. Fire your psalms at someone else.*
- Activism: yes, I know chickens get killed, their feathers picked and
that they get wrapped up in plastic to be delivered in the local
supermarket. Let me tell you something: they are delicious. Stop
* These points are exaggerated and do not reflect my personal opinion.
The beginning of a solution
To summarize the above story:
- We refrain from posting certain things in public to avoid confrontations.
- This means we do not fully express ourselves.
- As a result, we do not meet like-minded people.
- Self-censorship sucks.
Luckily, I did come up with a couple of solutions that would go a
long way in solving this much-neglected problem. Diaspora could really
set itself apart from the competition by recognizing these problems and
implementing some, if not all, of the following suggestions.
The first solution is to have the ability to post something in public without putting it on your public profile and without sharing it with your friends.
Your message will be floating in space, with no one knowing that the
message even exists. Only those who are either following the hashtags
included in your posts or those who search for the post will be able to
Posts floating in space. Seek and thou shalt find!
These are the secrets in public I mentioned earlier on. The safety is
that when someone finds your post, they will most likely have a
relation to the subject. Avoiding judgmental replies from people you
know has never been easier! To me, this is what Twitter should have been
all along. It allows you to participate in controversial topics without
notifying everyone about it.
This so-called “off-the-record posting” can be done in conjunction
with #hashtags and @mentions. It’s also a great solution when
implementing groups that work with !bangtags, as you can decide whether
or not you would like to share your group posts with your friends.
Facebook and Twitter do not give you this choice and instead make the
decision for you. With this implemented, now you can be the one in
If you do not want to bother your contacts with topics which you know
won’t interest them, then public aspects is what you are looking for.
Public aspects were first mentioned by Markus (Notch) Persson, as a
suggestion for Google+. Notch is the developer of Minecraft, among other
games, and works for Mojang. His problem is a clear one: he is
reasonably open about his personal life, he is famous for building
Minecraft, he has some other projects going on as well and he takes a
clear stance on various developments on the Internet. What he needs is
an account with:
- Aspects for his private life
- Regular public posts about the things he chooses to post public
- Public aspects for “Minecraft” and “Other development”
This way, people can choose to just follow his public posts about
Minecraft or just his public posts about all other sorts of development.
His real life buddies can share with him without receiving all the
unwanted information about Minecraft.
Personally, I would most likely have a public aspect for “Accountancy”
and “Diaspora”. The related public posts will no longer appear in my
normal public stream, leaving something much less chaotic for my friends
to enjoy. Visitors can then choose whether or not they want to follow
these public aspects. It leaves me more room to post extensively about
these topics in public without annoying my family and friends.
Reshare to aspect
I love resharing crazy pictures. Unfortunately, resharing them with
my boss might not always be a good idea, especially when she’s a woman
and the picture is a bit sexist.
Some things just need to stay within your friendly circles. Being able
to reshare a public picture with a limited audience would be helpful in
More freedom, more self-expression, more joy. Being different together is great!