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Privacy Rings

The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that two of the essential aspects of the future of blogging will be selective privacy and privacy rings -- respectively, the desire and the ability to easily and precisely control access by others to one's data.

The trigger for writing this was a chat I had yesterday with the delightful Xeni Jardin. We missed each other when I was in California last week -- I was at Joi Ito's party in San Francisco while she was holding a housewarming party in Los Angeles. I asked if she was going to post a blog entry of her party complete with pictures, and it turned out she wasn't -- she didn't feel comfortable posting photographs of her private living space on the Web.

To me, this was a perfect illustration of selective privacy. Xeni is a respected blogger, has her own site, and is visibly and frequently active in a variety of public spaces. Yet for her, to post pictures taken inside her house would be to share more of her personal life than she cares to. These boundaries are aspects of Xeni's selective privacy -- how, when, where, and with whom she chooses to share the record of her life.

Each of us has a unique vision of selective privacy. Some bloggers post intimate details of their lives, while others are careful never to discuss their personal issues. Some bloggers proclaim their identity loudly, while others remain in the shadows of anonymity. This is as it should be; we are individuals with our own preferences.

To implement our personal versions of selective privacy, we need the ability to create and modify privacy rings -- sets of people and the access we grant to them. Using off-the-shelf blogging tools, it's difficult to set up a blog so that the level of detail presented varies with the reader's identity. One person I know deals with this by running two completely separate Movable Type-based blogs: one public where he alone posts, and another completely private where anyone in his discussion group can post. Not only is this a time-intensive solution for the owner of the blogs, it means his discussion group must now track two URLs instead of one. What happens if he wants additional levels of privacy? Must he create yet more blogs? That's what current tools allow, but there must be a better way.

This problem is difficult enough today when the vast majority of the content created for blogs is created by bloggers themselves. It will grow exponentially worse when we carry devices capable of posting continuous streams of updated data to our blogs (if we call them that). Imagine your cell phone after next uploading GPS coordinates, the names of nearby detected devices, call records, pictures, audio and video clips, and so on. How will we control access to such information? Some pictures we may want to keep only for ourselves (Ring 0), while others we may want to publish to the world. Some people might want their immediate family (Ring 1) to know their location at all times, while others might find that idea unacceptable.

Without tools to control our data through selective privacy, and without tools to manage groups of viewers and the access we give them through privacy rings, blogging -- especially mobile blogging -- won't take off the way it should.

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