The “public by default” nature of blogging, Flickr, and del.icio.us has been key to their success where earlier attempts have failed. Still there is a huge amount of info out there that is sensitive. In particular there is a large swathe of it which is time sensitive: research for a present or a presentation, research for a new product or a new job, information which gives away too much information about current intentions or physical location or security vulnerabilities, .
In fact I would argue that there is a significant overlap between the information we’re not yet ready to share, and our best, most in-depth research. The information we’re most likely to make private is the information that would most likely be useful to others.
Opaque, for a little while
So what’s an alternative to making the information private? Suppressing it; push the information down below the transparency level, and let it bob back to the surface at a later date. In 6 months the birthday will be a distant memory and the issue of a present a done deal, your Web2.0 startup will have already launched and been acquired, and so on.
Right now the public/private spectrum is 2-dimensional, if we take the time to build, maintain, and garden our social networks then we can add a dimension of public for friends/family/colleagues, but currently that requires serious investment. Time is a simpler dimension (it progresses largely without intervention), and yet adds a great deal of flexibility.
A Couple of Refinements
Re-suppression. Once information has been made public on the Web, it’s nearly impossible to remove it again. So systems with suppression need to be proactive about notifying before information slip into the public, and giving you the option to push it down for another 6 months.
Variable translucency. Once the rubber ducky of secret information has been pushed down, it might not be seen again until the privacy window expires, but it is also possible that as it gradually bobs it’s way back to the surface it will become start to become visible through the translucent bath water, gradually revealing more over time.