The Public Flow

I’ve been wandering recently, in my thoughts, around and through something I’m calling “The Public Flow.”

It started as a vague concept, triggered by conversations about “The Flow” – the moving stream of information that’s always there, described by Stowe Boyd, Kevin Marks and others. Doc Searls calls it “The Live Web.” But some of that flow is obscured, private, shared among friends and our web contacts or inside walled garden systems. I think what’s most interesting is the portion of The Flow that’s happening out in public – The Public Flow.

People have always spoken in public about their lives and what’s happening around them. Most of it has always happened outside formal community forums such as the Town Council.  These conversations happen in the pub, in the bleachers of our kids soccer games, and just about everwhere. We’re all having public conversations all the time, where the only privacy is that of proximity – you really don’t know who that is sitting at the next table, and usually you really don’t care. Now many of those conversations have moved to Twitter, or Facebook, or someday on Google Wave. Some of those are open conversations that are easily found, searched, and aggregated and some aren’t.

My friend Laura Fitton, aka Pistachio spoke about Twitter at Google back in April. In discussing the organic flow of information on Twitter, she made this point:

When you go out and do focus group research and explicit market research, people freeze up a little bit and don’t quite get the right natural answer about how they really feel about a product, how they really experience a problem that a product might solve, how they really interact with information. But when someone bothers to tweet about it, that’s a very natural, authentic thing, so the quality of data and the volume of data flowing through it are potentially extremely valuable, and I think we’re just beginning to see good search tools…

What will happen as we develop better tools for understanding and participating in this Public Flow? How will life change? How will business change? How will our communities change?

How will it change us?

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