Do We Share Too Much?

I’ve been a web worker for many years. As a community manager, almost all of my work is online and public; I have a more visible role than many people. The result is that I’m probably more comfortable sharing my work with other people, and  I also tend to share information about other parts of my life online. Occasionally, I like to step back and think about how much is too much when it comes to sharing details about my life with complete strangers, especially when I stumble across extreme examples of sharing too much.

One of the most visible recent examples of over-sharing was Josh Harris’s movie, We Live in Public, where he taped every minute of his life for six months and turned it into a movie to show “the price we pay for living in public.” While this example is well-known and has been seen by people all over the world, there are certainly many other examples on a smaller, local scale. Right here in Portland, a friend of mine works in a building where The Public Isolation Project has just been kicked off. The plan is for Cristin Norine to spend a month living in an isolated glass room visible to anyone passing by on the busy street, but without any non-digital human contact. All of her interactions with people will occur solely online or through glass walls.

Both of these examples are way beyond anything that I would ever consider doing, but I am constantly faced with choices and trade-offs: am I sharing things that other people really would find useful, or am I sharing too much? For example, my favorite running app, RunKeeper, introduced the RunKeeper Live feature where other people can track my runs in real-time to see where I am running right this second. While this would be really useful if I was ever injured while running, I don’t think that I want any random person to know exactly where I am every second of my run. However, the company also introduced live tracking for races where people can see where you are on the course and watch your progress toward completing that big race, which might be something that I would consider. I can see my family and friends being interested in following my live progress on a run when they are too far away to attend in-person.

What about those gray areas: information that you want to share even if only a few people will find it interesting. Does anyone really care what I had for lunch? What if I made a really amazing lunch, and I posted what was in it to give people ideas and inspiration for something they might want to make? I also sometimes share details about my workouts, which probably aren’t that interesting to many people, other than a few runner friends, but it gives us an excuse to motivate each other. What about fun posts that make people laugh, or commiserate about a bad day? Most of us probably share bits and pieces of information that falls into one of these categories, but how much is too much sharing?

Sharing details about the work that we do online is usually OK, as long as we’re careful not to disclose anything confidential about our company or clients. I try to share things that I think will be useful for other people. In my work as a community manager, I document and share processes and information that members of our online community might need. On a more general note, I blog about community manager tips on my personal blog, write posts of interest to web workers here and occasionally share other information as videos or guest posts.

I often feel obligated to share the personal rationale behind my decisions to help people understand my choices. I’ve blogged about stepping down from a non-profit that I helped co-found, starting new jobs, leaving old jobs and other actions that people might notice. Each of us now has a platform to tell our side of the story or to provide personal insights in a way that didn’t exist for most of us until relatively recently. The hard part is deciding which parts to share and which to keep to ourselves.

What are some examples you’ve seen of people sharing too much? Where do you draw the line between public and private?

Photo by Flickr user Ben Grey used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.

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