The perils of openness

Mary Beard has a really interesting perspective on the consequences of openness: Transparency is the new opacity. In the absence of confidential channels (which, given today’s storage and search capabilities, you have no guarantee will remain confidential) very little actual information gets transmitted in student appraisals.

And the only difference between job appraisals and student appraisals, I assume, lies in vocabulary. As a technologist, I could envision all kinds of technical fixes to this, assuming that those in charge of the specifications acknowledge that they are necessary: Fields for comments hidden from the subject, fields that terminate after a certain time after reading, filters to search engines that handle confidentiality – including the fact that there is a confidential comment in the first place (which turns out to be surprisingly hard to do.)

But the more natural fix is the quick conversation in the pub, the hallway, or on the private cell phone – impervious to search, storage and documentation – where the real information can be exchanged. The electronic equivalent? Encrypted Twitter, perhaps, if such a thing exists.

What we need is online coffee shops, offering the same discreet, transient and history-less marketplace for information. Now I spend time on the phone with my colleagues for that, but that doesn’t work well across time zones. So – what would it look like and how to build it?

PS: Come to think of it, Skype is encrypted, at least the phone calls.