Ambient Sharing

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I recently gave a digital trends presentation where I talked about the future of sharing and how the evolution of today's tools, technologies and distribution systems will allow us to communicate, find and discover new things.

As social media continues to be embraced, we are finding that there are more ways to share than ever before as "sharing" has become a key feature for existing and new software based products. Why? Because sharing allows us to discover new things. In the past, we learned about new products, music, content, and more from mainstream media and advertising. But now we are discovering new things from friends and strangers, based on similar interests and their willingness to share.

I have a keen interest in the area of "ambient sharing." I like to describe this category as when devices and services share our accomplishments, interests and updates on our behalf. Think about it as machines operating your personal social networks for you in a very trusted way.

At first, ambient sharing is met with fear and paranoia:

"Why would I want someone to know that I just did this?"
"Why would I want someone to know where I am?"
"Why does anyone care about my weight?"
"Who cares that you ran five miles?"

All of these are good questions. But you also have to ask yourself how a discovery system could operate without input from others?

Recently, the co-founder of Foursquare Naveen Selvadurai came to BBDO to give a presentation. Some users asked if they could use the service but hide their location. To which Naveen responded by saying, "Yes you could, but if your friends did that too, would you know where any of them were?" With this statement, Naveen illustrated that for the service to work, you need to give in order to get.

By putting (sometimes exhaustive or non-relevant) information into the system, we take, what Clay Shirky calls, a "share then gather" approach to releasing our content. We put our interests, updates and content out on the Internet where only those with similar interests will find it. If they aren't interested, they won't see it.

One of my favorite sharing and discovery stories involves a fellow BBDOer with whom I share similar interests in running. However, it wasn't until my X-Box posted some "Call of Duty" achievements as a Facebook status update that I discovered he was also a dedicated gamer who probably goes through two games per month (that's a lot considering his other interests). Never would I have ever discussed gaming with him, but I think that now it is all we talk about.

What happens when your cable box adopts similar functionality and shares the show that you are watching? Is it more of a risk or a reward? The risk is that your friend's will know that you like "Jersey Shore," but the reward could be finding out that six of your friends also love the show. Now you can talk about it!

Chances are that you are already using products that can share on your behalf. Garmin now lets you publish and share your recent workouts. Services like will update your status based on music that you like. You can buy a WiThings scale that will tweet your weight (how's that for digital peer pressure!). Or you can share your recent purchases with Blippy.

I'm keeping an eye on ambient sharing and more importantly, how brands can play in the space.

Chad Stoller is Director of Digital Strategy for BBDO North America

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