Wednesday, November 2, 2011

If information is power, why share information? (on the elusive search for transparency & collaboration)

So this is what I still don't get and I'm hoping maybe others can provide some insight. Maybe I'm just missing the obvious but...


1. If we are operating in an information economy, then information has value akin to financial currency.


Therefore it follows logically that - 


2. You wouldn't give away all your money...so what is the rational reason for sharing information, particularly information of value?


Perhaps you could argue that information-sharing is like a financial investment and:


3. You invest a limited amount of information-sharing for the sake of getting good information back - like putting your money in the stock market so that you earn enough interest to outpace inflation. 


However, there are a few powerful contravening factors in that giving away information can make you lose:


* Status/power/respect - if others are as expert as you, why do you occupy this place in the hierarchy? You may lose your mystique as people understand how you operate. And by making yourself vulnerable, others may see you as weak.


* Credibility - by showing that you've made a mistake, others may perceive that you're not worthy of the status or station that you hold


* Security - hostile individuals, organizations, or (in the case of government) enemy entities can exploit what you've shared to plan an attack on you, or use what you've said to harm you in another way.


...Not to mention that you can lurk and obtain information without ever having to share anything.


There are some arguments in response to the above but all of them seem fairly weak in comparison with social, legal, economic and physical survival:


* Social norms (everybody's sharing) - and perhaps you/your organization run the risk of not being trusted nowadays unless you are relatively open about things


* Status (people who share get respect from others and are perceived as likable)


* Self-esteem (it feels good to help other people)


The only argument one can't really argue with is 


* Legal compliance (sharing is often required)


...but even there the individual/organization may seek to change the law or comply in such a way that the information shared isn't useful or accessible.


So back to the question - if you're a self-protecting person or organization that doesn't need or want the esteem benefits of sharing and doesn't perceive it as normative, then why would you share anything beyond the bare minimum of what is legally required?


Or even further - wouldn't you try to amend the law so that the compliance requirements are fewer?


This question has so many applications, from the entire OpenGov movement to social media more broadly...comments please.

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