This post is second in a series of my Social Media Principles. The base post is 10 Social Media Principles.
2. Information wants to be free – Free society runs on free information. Information hoarding is the enemy of discourse and growth.
Have you ever felt disrespected? Have you worked somewhere and felt you could do more, do better, and really innovate for your company – but that they just didn’t value your input? Have you needed to get from point A to point B, but the cost of the map made the journey undesirable? Have you ever bought something, had it not work and waited on hold for an hour with customer service only to get a simple one sentence reply to your problem?
Oddly enough, information freedom lies at the heart of all these dynamics. Restriction of information is a common (and self-defeating) way to hold on to and exercise power. “Need to know basis.” “You aren’t in that department” “You aren’t at that level” All these are limiters to discourse and growth and operate in the service of coercive power.
Stewart Brand said it nearly 25 years ago:
On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.
At the heart of this tension is power. Social Media – an extension of the forces Brand saw in the early 80s – increases this tension. People now expect information to be free. Free of cost, freely available. Anything less upsets them because their ability to function has been impaired.
No information? Suddenly: I can’t use my new electronics, I can’t help my company launch this product, I can’t find the hours of operation for the restaurant I want to go to. In an information-based ecosystem – withholding information is like withholding food or air.
Social Media tells us, it’s not the information, it’s what you build out of the information that is the true source of value. Whether it is your friend’s birthday, the user manual for your new DVR, or market research on the purchasing patterns of line cooks in Paraguay – we now expect to have instant access to it. With information we have the ability to live. Without it, we’re prisoners.
Social Media here is showing us that if we give people respect by trusting them with information, they will do good things with it. They will fill Digg and delicious with well categorized and ranked information. They will create Wikipedia and democratize not only information but the engine of interpretation.
Of course information will always be a commodity. It will be traded and it will have value. Decisions about what information we provide, to whom and when is dependent on context. The information itself, in principle, wants to be free. If you are choosing to limit access to it – there needs to be a clear reason why.
Blogged at Cafe Appassionato, Seattle, WA
UPDATE: Read An Bui's take on this Principle