Public Sharing vs Private Sharing

Alexis Madrigal has an interesting post up on The Atlantic about "dark social" vs "public social". Alexis makes the point that private sharing via email, IM, and other means drives more traffic around the web than public social services like Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.

Alexis makes the broader point in the piece that the Internet has always been social and that the emergence of these newer social platforms is overblown. I agree with Alexis that "dark social" is a very powerful driver of traffic, but I think Alexis is missing a big point about the power of public sharing.

Public sharing opens up the share to all sorts of interesting engagement that is just not possible in "dark social" systems. 

I will give an example of something that happened yesterday to make my point. I went a walk on the High Line yesterday afternoon. As I was headed north at the 10th Avenue Ampitheater, I came across this huge billboard art installation:


I was smitten with this piece and spent five or ten minutes taking it in. Then I snapped a few photos of it on my phone and posted them to Instagram, Foursquare, and Tumblr. I was curious about the artist and the piece but didn't really do anything to figure out who had created it.

This morning as I was looking through Tumblr, I saw that my post of the art installation on Tumblr had gotten quite a few reactions, including this reblog from Kevin Slavin. Here's what Kevin had to say about it:

I’m so excited to see this wash up in Fred’s feed and to see others responding to it.

It’s not labeled anywhere and there’s no obvious way to know, but this is an old piece by one of my two great early mentors: Thomas Bayrle.

Looking back, I realize I’ve blogged about him frequently in the last few years including Five filmsDocumentaan old piece I helped him witha quick reference in a post by Greg, and his inspiration in an old essay for Brockman.

There are so many things to know that give this piece additional gravity. To know, for example, that this was made by hand, back in the 70s, no computers, and that the distortion of the logo was done by stretching latex with pins and tracing it.

To know that Thomas was a textile designer before he was a full-time artist. To understand the direct connections between Thomas, Peter Roehr and yes, Andy Warhol, who had similar predilections and procedural approaches to repetition, all at the exact same time.

Twenty years ago exactly, I was an artist working in Thomas’ studio in Frankfurt, and it’s no exaggeration to say that he taught me how to see. Like any great artist, Thomas is an astronaut, and he’s brought back images of places we might someday get to.

That this car has arrived some 40 years after he made it… well, that’s because we’re slow. No matter how fast the network gets, no matter how fast the market moves, they’ll never catch up to artists who have all their sensors in play.

How awesome is that? Now we know who the artist is – Thomas Bayrle. And we know when he made this work, we know how he did it, and we know that Kevin studied with him. 

Public sharing of social media made all of that happen. Sharing a picture of the art installation with my wife and/or kids via gmail, sms, kik, or some other form of private sharing could not have and would not have produced this information. And even if it had, it would not have produced it publicly.

So say what you will about "dark social" and private sharing. I'll take brightly lit public social any day.


Comments (Archived):

  1. Ari Paparo

    I saw this piece last week and was wondering about it. Thanks for “finding” and sharing the history.

    1. fredwilson

      i really like it. do you?

      1. falicon

        It feels like those hidden 3d art prints that were very popular in the 90’s…so *super* cool to hear the history of it and find out it was a manual build, way pre-dating those things…I liked it in general, but now I actually appreciate it (and therefore like it more).

        1. Dave W Baldwin

          FWIW- gawk is a link for a story listed on Drudge

          1. falicon

            Awesome! Thanks for the heads up!

  2. William Mougayar

    That article was stuck in the older paradigm of sharing for the purpose of clicking.Your anecdote is a perfect example of sharing for the purpose of empowerment. Yes, the Public and online communities behind them empower more than a few private silos.

    1. Richard

      What the Atlantic article is failing to see is that open social, for a large percentage of users,  is replacing  brodcast televison as a place to veg out and be entertained (is there really a difference between a “like” and a “laugh”?)  Thus, like TV, open social  is mostly a passive activity.   There is no one alive who would argue that TV was not the most dominant method of influencing consumption in the 20th century. And there is no one reading this blog who doesnt realize that open social will serve this same role in the 21st. 

      1. William Mougayar

        Right…TV and traditional media are becoming boring for most of their programming, even if they still have a good reach. I tweeted earlier this week that traditional media’s Digital businesses would do a lot better if they channelled more quality content to online and finally embraced that medium instead of using it as an alternative 2nd class channel. That was in response to the Guardian’s CEO saying that their digital business was only 30% of the rest and still a tough one to crack.It’s tough to be old media and new media at the same time. It’s one or the other, or totally separate the two. Do you go to because you picked up the week-end NY Times? No. Or do you go and buy the newspaper because you were reading stories on No. They are totally different, but they keep melding them.

        1. ShanaC

          I wouldn’t say TV and traditional programming has gotten boring. If anything, it has gotten both higher and lower brow at the same time (honey boo boo versus girls) as well as better at long form. Open social I think links those sorts of vegging out in a mashup way. It is a form of content that is more reflective of how people see themselves.

          1. William Mougayar

            People are watching less TV at the expense of social/online or healthier activities I think.

          2. johndodds

            Television viewing isn’t falling, it’s just more widely distributed. It is actually rising.

          3. William Mougayar

            Hmm. Are there stats on this? TV viewing habits is an interesting pattern to follow.

          4. johndodds

            Linear viewing may be suffering but when time-shifting and viewing via other devices is factored in, the trend is apparently upwards. Now I’m sure a growing element of that is viewing that is not the sole activity, but that has always been the case.

          5. Ruth BT

            @wmoug:disqus Was listening to the radio (I know, so old school!) and they talked about the fact that we are watching about the same amount of TV the traditional way but the audience is growing for what we term “catch-up tv” watched on other digital devices. You can download the most recent Aussie stats here. I’m sure there would be a US or Canadian version.

    2. Donna Brewington White

      “was stuck in the older paradigm of sharing”That was what struck me — it seemed that he was referring to a different “social” than the one I experience. Sure, I am more likely to click on a link sent to me by an acquaintance in an email than one found on a tweet, comment, wall post or status update, but, overall, I click on an exponentially greater number of links from “public” social — because I am exposed to more links this way. Rarely does someone send me a link via email and very rarely do I click on the email icon to share the link to a post rather than one of the social network icons.I understand that there is value in knowing the number of clicks generated by a source, especially for monetization considerations, but that seems to be such a limited measurement of reach and impact via a social platform.

      1. William Mougayar

        Yup. I think he was looking at it from the eyes of Chartbeat which provides such data.

  3. Peter Kim

    A few thoughts come to mind here. Based on the size of your follower networks, you are more of a Watts-like “big seed” when it comes to sharing public content than almost all other people. Email systems are 100% interoperable while all social networks are closed at some point. And I wonder if Chrysler is able to track this discussion.

    1. fredwilson

      yup. that’s my big takeaway from this thread

  4. JimHirshfield

    No argument from this corner. But my takeaway from reading the Atlantic piece was that a huge amount of sharing happens via email and IM. I’ve known that for a long time, I think most of us have. But was crystallized with Tynt data that showed just how voluminous sharing via email is. And to your point, don’t think people always set out to “share publicly” versus “share privately”. I think they just decide to _share_ – and to many that means email and a specific defined audience. Point being, open often better, but deliberate not always a factor. Side note – interesting WSJ article on top of techmeme this morning re inadvertent sharing on Facebook.

  5. takingpitches

    Don’t agree with his view of internet history.I started on Usenet and the like — preMosaic — and there was wonderful productive “social” and content sharing/creation taking place. It’s what hooked me to the Internet. I attributed a lot of that to “real names” — I needed my university email to access and also small curated communities on everything from political pooling to the Simpsons.Post-Mosaic — Web 1.0 — we broadened access but moved backwards to anonymity and pseudonyms. Public sharing didn’t work so great, because it generated too much crap and there was too much unaccountably to what you posted. Many business models like ours at that time didn’t succeed because of that.Friendster, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, 4Square changed that by making us more broadly comfortable with real names, which brought accountability also encouraged more content creation (ironic as I sit behind my veil) because it would be read and noticed like the guy who responded to you yesterday. I look at this as coming full circle in bringing that UseNet ethos into the wider web. It’s the same ethos that we can interact with you on AVC.This didn’t exist in the mid-late 1990s. Where we are now is very different than at UseNet (because broader access) and the late 1990s (because of productive public sharing).I’ll take brightly lit public social too!

    1. takingpitches

      There was a great interview with Andreesen in Wired earlier this year that touched on some of this:Andreessen: I often wonder if we should have built social into the browser from the start. The idea that you want to be connected with your friends, your social circle, the people you work with—we could have built that into Mosaic. But at the time, the culture on the Internet revolved around anonymity and pseudonyms.Anderson: You built in cookies so that sites could remember each user.Andreessen: But we didn’t build in the concept of identity. I think that might have freaked people out.Anderson: It might still.Andreessen: Yeah, I’m not sure at the time people were ready for it. I don’t think it was an accident that it took, you know, 13 or 14 years after we introduced the browser for people to say, “I want my identity to be a standard part of this.”Anderson: And it took Mark Zuckerberg to figure out how to make it pay off.Andreessen: It was really a generational shift—a group of young entrepreneurs, including Andrew Mason and Mark Zuckerberg, who weren’t burned by the dotcom boom and bust. I came to Ning with all these psychic scars. They just looked at the Internet and said, “This stuff is really cool, and we want to build something new.”

      1. fredwilson

        not just Zuck

        1. takingpitches

          Agree completely.As per my original comment, it was a whole generation of services: Friendster, MySpace, Twitter, 4Square, as well as Facebook.That said, for my money, Facebook was pretty special, even among that list, in driving the change of behavior at least for me personally.Friendster opened the door to using real names, but my experience was cautious: put your highly curated self up and control the “testimonials” others posted about you. The effect was more like a static, controlled photo album than a real-time, unedited feed.Facebook modified this, taking it to new level. How? It found the group of people – college students – most comfortable with having their names associated with a real-time lens into their lives, whether through their own status updates and their friends comments. In doing so, it became compelling.Watching how much fun the college kids were having, the rest of us jumped in, in many cases more cautiously, by exercising a little more judgment about what we posted, but being more open than ever before.Starting with college communities was Zuckerberg’s genius luck. By starting with a group that “didn’t know better” or “didn’t care,” it pulled the rest of us in.

          1. ShanaC

            but now everyone is jumping on college students. I think there are other tastemaker groups open to various behavior changes. Which is a lot of what social is – behavior changing.

          2. takingpitches

            Agree – you gotta find whatever it takes to get the camel’s nose under the tent for whatever behavior change it is that you are seeking.

  6. Tom Labus

    There is such great benefit to public social but also responsibility in watching what you say in public.This distinction sometimes gets ignored but carries consequences.

    1. Anne Libby

      This goes beyond public vs. private: anything we say in digital form can become public social in a flash (see Michael Brutsch.)And we don’t always know when we’re committing our words to digitization.I recently witnessed an interesting/chilling discussion in public (classroom setting) — someone reported on negative behavior by her boss. A claasmate advised her to set her iPhone to record and bring it to the next meeting with the boss.It all goes back to what our moms taught us: speak carefully, no matter where you are.

  7. Clay Hebert

    I didn’t think Alexis was saying that “dark social” is in any way better than “public social” or that “public social” is overblown, just that “dark social” is (in most analytics) being inaccurately lumped in with direct traffic.In his own tl;dr, he even says, “The sharing you see on sites like Facebook and Twitter is the tip of the ‘social’ iceberg.”I agree with you Fred, that public sharing made your (extremely cool) story possible. I just don’t think Alexis was trying to argue any benefit of “dark” vs. “public”, rather highlighting the existence of “dark social” and that marketers incorrectly lump it in with direct traffic.As a marketer (and data geek) who spends a lot of time explaining the power and ROI of social to big brands, Alexis’ article gives me another great exercise, to show brands that a huge % of their traffic was not direct (typing in a URL) but rather “dark social” sharing….another baby step along the journey to understanding what seems obvious to many of us.

    1. Richard

      ” I call it DARK SOCIAL. It shows up variously in programs as “direct” or “typed/bookmarked” traffic, which implies to many site owners that you actually have a bookmark or typed in into your browser. But that’s not actually what’s happening a lot of the time. Most of the time, someone Gchatted someone a link, or it came in on a big email distribution list, or your dad sent it to you.” ? Is this correct? Across all types of users? 

    2. Kirsten Lambertsen

      When I hear a term like “dark social,” I think, “Oh, you mean word-of-mouth?” Email and IM are just lower-friction ways of talking to each other.As a marketer, I can’t gracefully inject myself into a telephone conversation, or an email or IM conversation. I can do things to make it easier, more fun or more rewarding to talk about me in those conversations.”Direct” traffic is word-of-mouth traffic. In many ways, I think it’s not terribly relevant whether it was the result of a directly typed URL or an email or IM link.

      1. ShanaC

        But is it? Direct could be brand based – not driven by straight word of mouth at all.

        1. Kirsten Lambertsen

          Yes, of course, you’re right. If someone hears a URL on the radio or sees it on TV, then it’s direct-response, basically.I’m wagering that a great deal of direct traffic is WOM, though. And facilitating more WOM is a primary way to grow it. (Versus trying to find some way to force ourselves into people’s email or IM conversations.)

    3. fredwilson

      it’s this paragraph that Alexis wrote that bugs me:If what I’m saying is true, then the tradeoffs we make on social networks is not the one that we’re told we’re making. We’re not giving our personal data in exchange for the ability to share links with friends. Massive numbers of people — a larger set than exists on any social network — already do that outside the social networks. Rather, we’re exchanging our personal data in exchange for the ability to publish and archive a record of our sharing. That may be a transaction you want to make, but it might not be the one you’ve been told you made.

      1. Clay Hebert

        I agree. I don’t like that particular paragraph either.

        1. Brandon Burns

          i disagree. this is the paragraph that rings most true for me.i share links, photos, stories via email and gchat everyday, as does everyone else. denying that this doesn’t happen is futile.any decision to share outside of those private methods is a decision to, as alexis calls it, “publish” to a wider audience. and i think alexis is spot on the realizing that this truth may not be the one that was sold to you. doesn’t make it less true, better, or worse.fred already explained what we gain by “publishing.” but what do you lose? imagine writing a letter to someone and, instead of sending it to them, you post it to facebook or twitter with a link to the letter. you can’t deny that’ll alter the experience, probably negatively, for the intended recipient. there’s definitely a tradeoff.

      2. ShanaC

        I don’t think archive is an accurate word. Parts of the web do die. It isn’t so clear a lot of the links as they are being shared now will be accessible later. I would say it structures our sharing, thereby making it easier.

      3. Prokofy

        It bugs me, too. Crypto stuff. It’s a closed society.

  8. Druce

    It’s a problem is when people think they’re sharing privately and it turns out they’re sharing publicly.Facebook has a problem with this. They used to represent as private-ish but are really public and people don’t realize it, just search .They encourage people to share as broadly as possible and under real names and then use those shares to drive engagement. But I certainly cringe sometimes when I get tagged someplace and then wonder who is going to ask me about it.Now we’re all politicians or celebrities targeted by paparazzi LOL.

    1. JimHirshfield

      That’s the article I was referring to. (Head nod)

  9. kidmercury

    private sharing could result in public information. google knows quite a bit about everything, as does amazon, and they’ve acquired much of this knowledge through private data mining, and then repackage this information for public consumption. i don’t think we’re too off from the day where you share an image and google inserts a sidebar with more information about it (and ads!)i agree these new platforms are way overblown, thanks largely to bubble 2.0, but of course there is a place for them. i do think however that the future is niche — which is a semi-public, semi-private type of environment (more private than twitter, more public than email).

    1. JimHirshfield

      Google could shed light on a lot of dark social by telling us how much sharing (ie referral traffic out) from gmail we’re getting.

      1. ShanaC

        I know this is old news, but wasn’t this the point of Tynt?(ps, I owe you a thank you.)

        1. JimHirshfield

          Not the point, per se. But one of the signals.Google (and other web mail providers) would have more explicit data.

    2. William Mougayar

      Great nuance between semi-private and semi-public. For example, if you share something with your friends only, is that semi-public?And to add another nuance to this debate, there’s the issue of Public vs. Publicizing. Some think that the two aren’t the same, i.e. if you can make something public, that doesn’t mean you want it publicized, but maybe it does.

      1. Dave W Baldwin

        Depends on the public reaction/opinion….

        1. William Mougayar

          …or the intent of the originator.

          1. Dave W Baldwin

            Equations, equations…

      2. LE

        “For example, if you share something with your friends only”Specifically “friends only”. No such thing.I think you have to obviously assume in this day and age that anything you share can and will become public.Back in the day you could tell a friend something and not have to worry about that information becoming widely available. The gatekeepers (TV, newspapers etc.) were only interested if it reached a truly high level of interest.If I told you a business idea I would have some sense of who you knew and whether you would share that with anyone else and how much I could trust you. Now, today, you know many people. So if I share something with you you could potentially blog about it or give it to anyone. Never really had to worry about this previously certainly not to the degree that you do today (sure you could share it at a party but what’s the chance it’s going to go very far?).It may come as a surprise to many young entrepreneurs that business people are not collegial university researchers, and according to “old school”, they simply don’t share the secrets to their success. And they don’t air their dirty laundry. I remember back in the 90’s early hosting companies posting their downtime and postmortems on what was going wrong in their operation and I found it simply the oddest thing in the world.I would imagine this public social also impacts people like Fred and what they share with friends. I would think for sure that Fred would have to be very guarded about what he says to people unless they are the closest of friends. Because there is practically no friction anymore in the sharing of that information as there was prior to email, blogs, a zillion news sites.In the past, with respect to customers and clients the reach what they could do was limited. Today any email to a customer has to be handled as if that customer could pass that email to anyone and then a third party could blog about it. You simply didn’t have to worry about things like this in the past (unless you were a major company of course where an inappropriate response would be of interest to the main stream media.)

        1. William Mougayar

          Good points.

        2. ShanaC

          I think a lot of morality around these areas has changed or is the process of changing really radically in that regard. A lot of things that were considered sacrosanct as morality in business is now spilling out into real life, so strangeness/secrets matter less. Even coke’s recipe might be in the public by now. The assumption is if you can execute on it now

      3. ShanaC

        The problem with networks is that things easily spread. There is no sense of nuance with structured public social. And it is very hard to create that sense of nuance.I’ve mostly given up, even though it is something I desire very much.

      4. Abdallah Al-Hakim

        That’s the problem Facebook faced recently when they made public the wall posts from 2007 to 2009. At the time, people assumed that wall posts were private messages to friends only but with Facebook changing their formatting and rules, it became clear that the line between public and personal shares is a fuzzy one.

    3. fredwilson

      i’m just not feeling that Kid. but you and Kirk certainly have a point of view on this

    4. Brandon Burns

      i 100% agree, but i don’t think crawling google/amazon/etc is the way. i won’t repost here, but my (probably too lengthy) comment above is an inside look at some data around a current attempt of this.i believe the key is to make it really clear to the user that their “private”, between-friends interaction is being repurposed for public good for a specific reason that they believe in. my post above is an example, but filling out a form with your name and address to buy a product, and sending that info to the census bureau for every user who checked the box to say it was okay, would be with anything, if the benefit is good enough and made clear enough, people do it.

  10. kirklove

    You’re conflating too many things here. There is no need to differentiate between public or private or suggest one is better or more powerful than the other. They are just different. I’d also suggest that sharing amongst even family and friends IS public. Just a smaller circle, though still sharing.Also, in your case your public reach is FAR greater than most, don’t forget that as it affects the distribution and reach of your posts. Private or closed looped sharing amongst people you know creates a much more consistent and rewarding experience for most in my experience.

    1. William Mougayar

      Good point about one’s public reach as a key factor in determining the impact of a given share.

    2. RichardF

      Great points +1

    3. kidmercury


    4. LE

      “Also, in your case your public reach is FAR greater than most, don’t forget that as it affects the distribution and reach of your posts.”Exactly. Reminds me of the early days of the internet when people used to say things like “put it up on the internet and everyone in the world will see it” (or maybe they did say “can” but the implication was that the mere fact that someone was online with a presence equated to mass viewing like a network tv show with a built in audience. Fred is that network TV show.)@engagio has done a good job with extending the reach of the mother ship (those emails) at the potential cannibalization of Fred’s program of course. People only have so much time to spend on entertainment.

      1. William Mougayar

        Thanks LE. I guess, we serve to expose/replicate where engagement is happening. That generates more engagement back to the original places or in new places. I’m not sure about the cannibalization though. It’s true that there is a finite amount of time one can spend commenting, although there is no evidence that this has taken away from AVC commenting. To the contrary, I believe Shana’s research found out that Engagio drives hundreds of hours of engagement back into AVC.

        1. LE

          “I believe Shana’s research found out”Yeah may be the case but I’m just biased in that area. I remember at the start the entire idea of linking was distonic to me. In the legacy world, in a retail store for example, you would never put a door in to allow people to leave your retail store. You wanted them trapped and buying. And not only that, you wanted them to wander around even though they came in for one thing. Reason the milk is in the back of the supermarket. You have to pass by impulse items which you will most certainly buy. Reason they don’t make it super easy to find what you want.This of course was all busted apart by people who didn’t think this way because they had no bias or experience. And in the end it just became the way it is and now everyone pretty much does it that way.

          1. William Mougayar

            True, but in online, you’re a click away from returning as fast as you left. If that side door gave you a good experience and if the only way to go there again is to re-enter via the front door, you’d do it in a heartbeat.

        2. ShanaC

          You drive dark social. Which is a hell of a lot harder to measure. If you just manage to offer clearer sense of analytics (stop changing measurements, grrrr) that would be a lot clearer to prove. And frankly, that would help a lot of content companies.

    5. fredwilson

      it may well be that my experience is different from most everyone else’s. i will have to factor that into my thinking. thanks.

      1. LE

        “it may well be that my experience is different from most everyone else’s.”Uh oh. You didn’t realize that. (Sorry for the way that sounds but it surprises me..)

        1. fredwilson

          My life is my life. It feels normal to me.

          1. LE

            I had an experience when I sold the business that I started out of college.Selling the business was a total surprise to everyone who worked there and unlike businesses today that have stock and other benefits when there was a sale the only one who benefited from the sale (with the exception of a key manager who had to be retained) was me. There was no pay window for anyone else. And most importantly in this type of business there was no expectation that anyone would benefit or any problem that I sold the business. These are meat and potatoes companies. You work. You get paid. You have a job.Now while I owned the business everyone appeared to like me and they would listen to whatever I said anytime I wanted them to listen to me. So if they were in my office and I wanted to pontificate about something they would l listen as long as I wanted to talk. And they were very nice in their manners as well. Now of course I had interesting things to say, but I probably put to much weight on what I was saying and not who I was. Same with salesman who handled and sold things to us. Everyone was in my grill and everyone seemed to like me.An interesting thing happened though when I sold the company. You know about what people say like “you find out who your friends are” etc.?Well roughly, from memory, say 50% of the employees acted (I was there for three months consulting) as if nothing had changed. They still seemed to like me and still seemed to want to talk to me. The other 50%, well, it was very clear that they had nothing to gain from me anymore since I wasn’t the boss so they paid no attention to me at all. Literally.In the case of the salesman, the ones who were all sugary nice and attentive to me, well I think the majority of them literally walked right past my office and said nothing.I always of course had a great deal of cynicism and skepticism but that experience certainly intensified that quite a bit.I guess the thing that surprised me was that in “my life” and the way I viewed the world I didn’t act as if I personally liked someone unless I personally liked them. I mean a overwhelming majority of the time anyway. I’m sure it has happened.

          2. PhilipSugar

            Yes the dynamics of that are very interesting aren’t they?I think you pointed this out before. Its always interesting when I get into my car. I only wear shorts and a tee shirt always. I drive a A8L. I watch some people’s minds explode. Must be the same for Fred and the Vespa.Same for at trade shows. I might be in the booth, but tell somebody they need to talk to my “boss” funny how the social strata works.

          3. FAKE GRIMLOCK


          4. Brandon Burns

            i want my normal to be that of the robot dinosaur confucius. at least for a day!

          5. FAKE GRIMLOCK


          6. Brandon Burns

            lol. you make me laugh so hard.i’m taking you up on that. i’m dressing up as you for halloween. can’t wait for the pics…

          7. fredwilson

            yes. that’s something that today brought home to me. i don’t want to be special. in fact, i fight that idea hard.

          8. Donna Brewington White

            Normal is not all it’s cracked up to be.

          9. FAKE GRIMLOCK


          10. ShanaC

            that is true of everyone though. Normal is the life you live. Including yours as a dinosaur. You must think what humans do as weird.

          11. FAKE GRIMLOCK


          12. Alex Murphy

            This is the same problem marketers face when they treat their opinions as the “norm.”One way to combat this is to catch people in the act. Try approaching random strangers as you walk around town and ask them what they actually do with the photos they take, the messages they send, and the games they play.I think you will get back to the 90/9/1 rule of engagement. And of the 1, there is a small portion that has truly significant reach & distribution.

      2. William Mougayar

        I don’t know that it’s “different”, except that you have more REACH publicly. When you have more REACH, you have more IMPACT, more Engagement, more Empowerment, more significant stories to tell, etc…

        1. Brandon Burns

          more reach doesn’t = more engagement, if measured as a function of engaged readers to total readers. the number of people who engage with an AVC post fluctuates broadly (50 to 500 comments) based on the content. his reach is much more stable than that.

          1. raycote

            Especially if you consider indirect cascading influences as part of reach.One might even conjecture that within the public sharing domain indirect cascading influences, influences here meaning more than just simple reposts or retweets, are where reach and influence really start to merge and accelerate one another to reshape both social and political culture.

        2. awaldstein

          Impact and reach are not necessarily the same.Common example:Someone/many people have reached the limit of 1000 Facebook friends. Just people who have done a good job of keeping connections and its a personal share fest. Not a discussion like this one but a network just the same. And powerful.Reach is huge and the can get the answer for restaurant recommendation, who painted a picture, where to buy something on sale, how does this shirt look on me.I would state that Fred’s example in NOT in any way a corner case. He may be at the higher reaches but there are 10s of millions of people who use their networks to share and engender a natural Q & A.And I seriously don’ t believe that reach necessarily has to equate to influence just like traffic necessarily speaks to a business beyond a media model.You need to be careful about measuring the world agains avc stats.This community rocks. But it is not the norm and while it is smart to understand the dynamics as building blocks its questionable whether the mechanics of this community are really transferable to most others.

      3. johndodds

        Having met Kevin, I’d also say that he is wonderfully far from “normal” – one of his current projects being a social television business. It doesn’t surprise me at all that he picked up on your post and, more crucially, wanted to spread it. The Atlantic article resonated greatly with me – I do a lot of darkly social sharing and act as a filter rather than carpetbomb my diverse and multi-layered social network. My view is that this can lead to more effetive sharing – a view enhanced by a blogger telling me recently that he notied that his twitter promotion of a blogpost was, to his delight, widely retweeted. The delight subsided when he later noted that the number of retweets exceeded the total number of pageviews of the post from all sources. Social sharing does not mean thast something is actually shared.

    6. Matt A. Myers

      Serendipity can come from many places. Enjoyment too. Depending on how you discover or are exposed to something will very much affect how you take it in: Trusted source, loved one, media source, vs. not trusted, neutral party, randomly stumbled upon.

    7. Elie Seidman

      Agreed about role of ones reach in the experience. Fred =/ typical reach. If I posted the same on Twitter, it would elicit zero response. In an email to my family and close friends, I’d get a response.



      1. Denim

        For now….The Internet is a WIP for everyone and everything at every time. Always and forever.

        1. kiran bhanushali

          what’s WIP?

          1. Denim

            Sorry, Work In Process. On mobile, typing as little as possible.

        2. FAKE GRIMLOCK


    9. ShanaC

      True. I do think Alexis’s point still holds true in fred’s case though: probably the private set of links he shares holds more influence for that audience. And they probably differ a good deal to what we’re seeing here.

    10. Mark Birch

      Great point, I am just reading this post now, and I was thinking the exact same thing. The point of the Atlantic piece was not to say one is better than the other, but that both exist and we have maybe ignored the value of recognizing and capturing the “dark social”.

  11. Abdallah Al-Hakim

    the serendipitous nature of a public share has always been an extremely intriguing process to me. A ripple effect of a public share is so unpredictable yet it is what makes it exciting. The problem of a public share is that it is difficult to sometimes figure out how it may lead traffic back to your site (if it ever does). This makes it harder to measure as a direct result – however, a larger traffic volume to your site that correlates to a recent social buzz caused by a public share could be a useful metric even if it can not be completely tied to a specific pubic share event.

  12. Abdallah Al-Hakim

    Alexis article is an interesting one and has generated significant commenting activity (71 comments thus far), however, it still bewilders me why Alexis is not active whatsoever in the discussion. His input and response to some of the points raised in the discussions would bring further value to the article. Unfortunately, he is not unique in this regard!!

    1. fredwilson

      because he prefers dark social where engagement doesn’t happen

      1. Brandon Burns

        i think claiming dark social = no engagement is unfair.i think the point is that they’re different, and to me that difference is how “special” is the relationship between the poster, content, and receiver. special prefers “dark” over broadcast. maybe an email. and if i email something to 3 people, and one responds via reply all… boom. engagement.i’m living this dark vs. public conundrum right now with my own product in testing. this may be a unique outlier story, but maybe still has lessons that can be applied elsewhere, so i’ll tell it.context: the product is called badjer (not live now, don’t bother — this is not a pitch, just a story). the hypothesis is based on the fact that the average person says “thank you” 14 times a day, which times the global population equals 98 billion achievements that are recognized with a thanks each and every day. meals made, articles written, billboard art drawn… and if we could only track, sort and publicize these everyday achievements, we’d have an easier time identifying talent. the function is, when someone does something worthy, describe what was done and give that person a “badj” — a breadcrumb for the thank yous, if you will. ex: alexis wrote a great article on data, so fred uploaded a link and description of it and attached a “data nerd” badj for data analysis. if alexis gets attached to more badjes, he’ll pop up at the top of the general talent rankings when people search for data analysis. or, if someone just wants to go straight to one of fred’s contacts to find out who he, specifically, thinks is smart in data, they’ll see that fred badjed alexis and can contact him for help with data stuff.the conundrum: obviously, the badj is the central piece of the platform. in trying to figure out how to launch a network from scratch, we know people need to “give” the badj to others off platform to bring them back on it. so we started to test with facebook, which worked… but not “give” a badj on badjer, you click “give,” which hooks you up to facebook connect to choose a friend, and done… its posted to the friend’s facebook wall. for every badj given, we’ve seen on average 1.7 more given due to it — the (lean) definition of viral. success? not quite.the data showed almost no facebook referrals, and no visits to the page that the URL posted to facebook should forward people to. but there was literally zero other way to find out about the test, so it had to come from facebook. so we knew people were typing in the URL that was largely displayed ont he badj visual posted to facebook ( has the same phenomenon). so now we know that no one read the message on facebook, which advertises what the site is actually about. boo. also, that URL in that message puts the recipient in a flow to sign up, that they’re not taking. double boo. the point of the platform is to help you find talented others that you can engage with IRL — if those people, the badj recipients, don’t engage, it all falls apart. thus, we need a much more targeted, special way to give a badj to off platform folks; something that really says, “hey, i took the time to do this nice thing to help you get recognized for your talent, you should really take the time to go check it out.” right now from facebook it comes off as, “i posted this random funny badge-like image on your facebook wall.” so, we’re now figuring out how to do it via email instead. we’d rather have 1 new person convert because they believe in the mission, than 20 new people just because they think the badjes are cute. in this case, special trumps reach. dark trumps public.obviously we believe in public. the whole point of badjer is to take the private “thank yous” spread in emails and in person and make them public for all to see who received them and what cool things they did to deserve them. but maybe the reason why thank yous are said privately in the first place is because that’s what makes them special… and we ignored that, and saw the consequences. fortunately, email may be private to the recipient, but the public data it sends back to the platform will still achieve out missions… hopefully.the big lesson: what is the nature of the content you are sharing, and the relationship between you, it, and the recipients? deliver it to the recipients based on that, and don’t generalize the one type of platform is always good for “sharing” in general.side note: sharing badjes via twitter was a complete failure. almost no clicks ever.side note 2: this is a poster child example for why a moblie first product (which we believe ours is) shouldn’t always be executed on mobile first. we’d never be able to slice and dice the data to this amount of detail in mobile.

        1. ShanaC

          Ok. This is really interesting in terms of measuring the success and failure of viral. Have you thought of pixeling the emails? Is the failure even when they come to the signup page that there isn’t a direct connection to the badge posted?

          1. Brandon Burns

            the failure = facebook users didn’t click on the link posted with the image, but saw the homepage URL and just typed it into their browser’s not a huge deal, just tell us we have to do it a different way. and underscores the point that if you really want to get the attention of someone specific to do something specific, broadcast media probably isn’t the best way to ask them to do that.we’ll for sure track the emails to see what happens when we push the next email-enabled iteration live, probably in about a week or so.i really, really loved your data analysis you did for avc last week. if you’ve got any insights you’d like to share, or you’re just interested in what we’re doing, you’ve got a coffee date with the bill on me at any time!



    2. ShanaC

      because it is terrifying as a writer to open yourself up to fray. Especially when you are under deadlines for other writing.

  13. Kirsten Lambertsen

    I’d love to know, now, how it came to be on this billboard 🙂 It looks like something that I could have seen in Juxtapoz today. Love it.

  14. Dave W Baldwin

    Love the billboard! We are in a transformation. Understand that many may be counted in Twitter/FB, but they are still at whatever point of maturity related to tech use. Many (both mature/immature) are transfixed thinking others see their name attached to whatever link. We are moving into a time where sharing will be truly that, just put out there something breathtaking and see if it takes root.

  15. RichardF

    Just like we now have dark upvoting on Disqus instead of public liking that we used to have.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Yeah, let’s bring it back into the light.

  16. Dave Pinsen

    That is awesome. Always great to get the back story on a work of art.

  17. jason wright

    “I came across this huge billboard art installation”Who owns the billboard?Is it an advert paid for by Chrysler?I need context.

      1. jason wright

        Oh yes. Thanks Anne.

    1. fredwilson

      I believe the High Line is using the Billboard to display public art

  18. Gustavo Melo

    The power of “dark social” is probably a remnant of communication methods before Facebook’s brand of social media. The trend is probably pointing downward. The smartest people of our generation, as they say, are figuring out how to convince you to share cat pictures on their social platform rather than through email or any other means.

  19. Irving Fain

    Seems like “dark social” is more about simply pushing out interesting content while “public social” allows for surround context, opinions and additional learning spurred by the original post. I’m sure there is a place for both in our world (i.e. your example is perfect for public consumption, but a photo of your family or kids likely wouldn’t benefit from other public opinion).

  20. awaldstein

    Right on!Email is a powerful communications tool. A one to one conversational language.The social web and community dynamics something else indeed. This is the power and magic of the web.I’m with you all the way on this one.

  21. awaldstein

    There are many but this anecdote really speaks to me like that one did to you Fred.Living near the river, I’m a bit wacko about tugboats. There are 800 of them that work our little island and come in a child’s fantasy of shapes and sizes.About four+ months ago this tiny weird one was on the river, like a kid’s toy. Took a pic, posted it out to the nets.Someone from Twitter came back and seems her grandfather was a ‘tug building’ and provide the info as it came from the shop her grandfather worked in.Public networks are just cool and enhance the fabric of our lives.

    1. fredwilson

      I really like tugboats too!

  22. jason wright

    what about dark public?digital voyeurism – how many read avc and do not engage?

    1. falicon

      I think across the board of any/all services, # readers is *way* higher than those that engage. Brings me back to the great ‘logged out user’ topic ->

      1. Donna Brewington White

        That was a great discussion.

  23. Elia Freedman

    I’ve got a post idea for you, Fred. You belong to and use a number of different social networks. I’m curious how you choose to use each? How do you make decisions about where to post what and where to engage others?For me, Twitter is public short comments and links to posts, my blog is for daily posts, and Facebook is for friends and family. Your blog has become my hang-out place in the mornings, reading posts and comments and participating when I have something to say that others haven’t already done. I read others — like Hacker News — but don’t participate there.You belong to and use a lot more than me, though. I don’t know if I could be on more of them and still manage my day job!

    1. fredwilson

      Good suggestion. I will work on it

      1. Abdallah Al-Hakim

        it would be an interesting post and I expect many of the AVC community members will volunteer to present their own social networking habits

        1. fredwilson

          fun friday?

          1. Abdallah Al-Hakim

            Go for it! I will participate and I am sure many others will

          2. William Mougayar

            Good point from Abdallah about opening it up. The community’s inputs will make it more comprehensive and telling.

    2. ShanaC

      I’m also curious about this kind of behavior in general. I wish we could poll everyone here just as a starting point.

    3. Nate Quigley

      “…and Facebook for friends and family.”Are friends and family really the same? People (and therefore, entrepreneurs) say “friends and family” together like they’re one and the same. But aren’t they different? Aren’t some of the “jobs to be done” different?More bluntly, is Facebook really the right answer for family?

      1. Elia Freedman

        Good point. Depends what you mean by family. Personally, I use visits, phone, text messages and email for my closest family. Then the a various cousins and other relatives who I’m not as close with but keep in general contact with. Friends, though, are the same. My closest friends I visit, text, email or talk to and have others on Facebook. I guess what I meant was that my professional life is more on Twitter and my personal life more on Facebook.

        1. Nate Quigley

          Makes perfect sense. I should have disclosed that I’m wildly biased on this question (co-founder of and I spend all day everyday thinking about it.Clay Christensen’s “jobs to be done” framework is really helpful here I think. In the end it’s about the things that the user wants to get done. Facebook, I think, is primarily about fairly superficial interactions whose purpose is to entertain. Basic socializing. Nothing wrong with it of course. It’s fun.But I think Family (and friends-like-family) have other jobs-to-be-done that can’t be done well in Facebook.

  24. andyidsinga

    Amazing!…public sharing helps create “building 20” style randomness 🙂

  25. raycote

    Public sharing in contrast to private sharing, when taken to it logical systemic limits, can reshape all social, commercial and political cultural.It is just a matter of taking time out of the formula.Sooner or later we will stumble upon, we will discover or we will organically distill out the optimal network-synchronized social possibilities that can be supported within the envelope of possibilities supplied to us by this new medium.the new medium bandwidth envelope =Authored-reusable-processes assembled atop the near instant remixing and synchronization of everything and everybody on the planet.EDIT:How do you get at that with private sharing?

  26. leigh

    The entire notion of a Global Village can’t occur if it’s done in private pockets. I find the article interesting that It looks at social through the lens of media and what drives traffic — and for me that’s not where the value is. to your point with that art piece, what happens in the collective (strong ties and weak) is where the value is……ps. don’t disagree with the article that the Web has always been social even before the official Web 2.0 tools made their debut — just think that focusing on dark social wasn’t the strongest argument 🙂

    1. Donna Brewington White

      “looks at social through the lens of media and what drives traffic”Good call, Leigh. Such a limited perspective.

  27. gregorylent

    a mystic will say that there is no difference between public and private, the vibrations of both permeate space ..

    1. Tom Labus

      Tell that to Mitt

  28. Donna Brewington White

    Probably a lot of clicks to the author’s article from AVC today, but I don’t see immediate evidence of lot of new Twitter followers from AVC.

  29. ShanaC

    To me – dark social occupies a very dangerous place – as it isn’t really dark. It is a fluid place, where you take the conversation from public to private and back. Pretty much all social technologies (including email I would argue, with lists and cc/bcc) have this technology built in. Measuring the switching between and forth between public and private is probably the most critical thing to do for measuring the true effectiveness/rate of spreading for anything. (going public means less embarrassing/less cool?) The tools available suck. Hence why dangerous – you can’t really figure out what is really on people’s minds.

  30. Prokofy

    I love the art on the HiLine. Here’s my camera phone of one of my faves:…It’s funny, I came here to tell you to read Madrigal’s piece if you hadn’t yet, and to see if it tracked with what you find.I realize that “social” is more than just Facebook and Twitter, and I find most hits on my own blog come from Google searches because I think people use Google not just to find things they don’t know about, but to find things they just heard about but lost in the welter of social media messages, or which they heard talked about, it’s like a “finder” not just a “searcher.” (Example: I couldn’t find the Summify e-mail with Madgrigal’s tweeted link in my email box, I didn’t want to shuffle through all of The Atlantic, so I typed in “Atlantic” and “dark social” into Google to find it again).Also, I see links from people’s email accounts that are obviously closed, and from their mobile phones and from other internal web talk (closed forums). If I press on any of those links, either they have a log-on page or a warning even of insecurity (I guess it’s 4chan or the Cryptos’ darknet).Whenever I see an email link, I worry. I think some moderators somewhere are discussing whether to ban me : )

  31. Joel Rojo

    Awesome post, this really resonated with me. Jason Silva actually created an amazing short video (only ~2 minutes) on the same subject, though the subject scope is a bit larger (and somewhat existential). Essentially it’s the idea of radical openness and how it’s a catalyst of evolution. Mind blowing stuff.

  32. leon

    the more easily we all can access information the better..