I’ve had a number of interesting conversions about the intersection of the virtual and the physical world since I wrote the post Did Someone Ruin Foursquare For Me Yesterday? Kashmir Hill in Forbes did a quick email interview with me titled Venture Capitalist Gets Creeped Out by Foursquare which captured a few new thoughts and I spent some time the other night at a TechStars Mentor dinner talking with Alex Rainert, the head of product for Foursquare, who had spent some time digging into this issue to try to figure out what was going on.
When I reflect on this, it’s clearly a “me problem” and not a “Foursquare problem.” Specifically, I’ve been chaotic and much too promiscuous with regard to my social graph. I don’t have a clear rule set about who I accept as friends on different services (I pretty much accept everyone) and as a result don’t have much control over what I broadcast. When I reflect on this, I also realize that it has rendered services like Facebook and LinkedIn largely useless to me as an information consumption mechanism.
Given my social network promiscuity I realize that I’ve fallen into a broadcast-only trap. Basically, I’m broadcasting on all the various services I use, but not consuming much new information, except on Twitter. When I extend this to my overall information consumption pattern, I realize that a lot of signal is once again getting lost in the noise, especially around the RSS feeds that I try to read regularly versus the endless amount of web media that is now distributed by RSS.
Toss in Quora, Stack Exchange, Disqus, and a few other high signal services into the mix and my approach has broken down. While I’m still able to manage my email, I’m struggling to get the right kind of utility out of my social graph.
As a result, I’ve decided to make one of my Q2P1s to rethink and re-architect my entire social graph. While this will require lots of effort, my expectation is that I’ll get two clear benefits out of this. First, I’ll reset how I use my social graph. But more importantly, I’ll get a better handle on the dynamics – and gaps – that exist in using and managing a very active social graph. Once again, I get to use my corner of the universe as a laboratory and hope to find some new important technologies and companies as a result. And I’ll blog the experience so you can help me figure it out while learning from what I do.
I was at lunch at Japango with some of my Foundry Group gang yesterday. When I went to my house in Alaska last July, I took a Mac with me but left my PC at home. Ross bet me $100 that before the month was out I’d beg him to fedex my PC to me. He lost and I decided to use my winnings to take whoever was around yesterday out to lunch.
We were enjoying our sushi and talking about random things, like what our family restaurant was when we were growing up (Godfathers, Pizza Hut, Burger King were three of them) and where the smokers hung out at high school. Someone was mid-sentence when the manager of Japango walked up and asked if I was Brad Feld. I said yes; he handed me the landline phone and said “someone is on the phone with an urgent call for you.”
Everyone paused while he handed me the phone.
Them: In a voice that was clearly masked “Is this Brad Feld”
Me: “Yes, who is this?”
Them: “I wrrrr whrrr your rrrr.”
Me: “I’m sorry – I can’t understand you. What are you saying.”
Them “Brad Feld – I know whrrr you rrr.”
This went on for a few more exchanges. I figured out what the person was trying to say but I wasn’t really processing it so I kept asking what they wanted. Eventually I hung up. I explained to my friends what had just happened and we had a short conversation about checking in on Foursquare and I speculated that was what had prompted the call.
A few minutes later the manager came by, picked up the phone, and asked if everything was alright. I quickly told him the story – he was pretty perplexed and apologized for bothering us. A few minutes later he came back and said the person was on the phone again asking for me. I once again picked up the phone, this time with a little anxiety, but by the time I got on the line the person was gone.
Now, I’ve had my share of Foursquare serendipity moments. I met Kevin Kinsella from Avalon for the first time when he stopped by in a restaurant in New York that I had checked in and was eating at (he was hosting a dinner for me the next week for the Do More Faster book tour in San Diego, but we’d never met in person.) In Boulder, Amy has asked me not to check in until after dinner when we eat together because she doesn’t want the periodic interruption. And I’ve had my share of emails saying something like “I see you are in town – can we get together?”
In general, I like the Foursquare serendipity a lot. I don’t check in at my houses because I don’t want to broadcast where I am overnight, although I will check into a hotel when I’m traveling just in case someone is around. And I’ve got Foursquare wired to Facebook so things show up in my feed. I recently wired up Tripit as well (and to LinkedIn) and that has resulted in some positive serendipity lately.
But yesterday’s call spooked me. I didn’t check in for the balance of the day. When I walked out of Japango, I was a little nervous about where I physically was for the first time I can remember while in Boulder. And I had a heightened awareness of my surroundings last night as I walked home.
I haven’t sorted this out yet, but as an early adopter – and a promiscuous one – of location-based checkin – I’m rethinking how I use this stuff and broadcast where I am. I expect this will be a much bigger issue in the future as humans become transmitters of their location (don’t believe me – just go read Daemon and Freedom.)
I guess it’s a good thing that this just happened and caused me to think harder about the implications. One of the reasons I immerse myself in this stuff is to understand the products and services, but also to understand the impact on humans and our society. While it’s easy to think intellectually about privacy, it’s a whole different deal when you have to process the ideas in the context of real issues that you encounter.