[Tim O'Reilly at the Web 2.0 Expo in Berlin]
I am spending a harsh winter weekend in Berlin and met some agency folks yesterday who assured me that the German advertising industry is churning, the economy is booming, and the country’s mood is on an upswing again. This optimism may be the foundation for the recent embrace of web 2.0 concepts and a push towards innovation. I had breakfast with a consultant who develops web 2.0 concepts for the European Space Agency/ESA), and he raved about the Web 2.0 expo that took place last week here in the "Hauptstadt" and brought together European web leaders with US-speakers such as Tim O'Reilly, Kathy Sierra, and Donald Tapscott. Web 2.0 is hot, and social networking is its mainstream version. Many German professionals are on XING, formerly OpenBC, the rather uptight, Euro-centric counterpart to LinkedIn. And now everyone's talking about Facebook (because, believe it or not, Germans just wanna have fun!). There seems to be a critical mass of social media-savvy evangelists in the creative industries to propel adoption. For them, the tools of the social web are a welcome gift. They thrive in the always-on, uber-instantaneous connectedness enabled by social media as the World Wide Web is finally living up to its promise to put the whole wide world in your hands.
It remains to be seen though whether Facebook will be able to celebrate the same triumphant growth in Germany that it has experienced in the US. Privacy concerns are much more prevalent in a country that for good reasons exhibits a distinct skepticism against any form of centralized governance. In the German media, politicians, lawyers, and business leaders are currently engaging in a heated debate about the issue of “Vorratsdatenspeicherung” (a new law that would require German service providers to store user data for a certain period of time and allow the government to access that data under certain conditions). The release of OpenSocial has further increased the relevance of social networking user data -- and the privacy concerns.
Traditional German culture also values a strict separation between private and public life, much more so than is the case in the US. But I can’t help think that the genuinely German cultural pessimism underpinning many of the "end of privacy" swan songs in the German media these days, demonstrates a certain naiveté. There is no point in vexing over privacy. Privacy is over. Public relations have long become a private matter, and privacy is no longer an absolute state but a management task for online citizen worldwide. This is not a moral judgment; I'm just stating what I believe is an obvious fact. You may choose to "unsubscribe" from the social web, as one German newspaper proposed, and opt out of the digital lifestyle altogether. But that means you risk becoming a digital hermit and ending up deprived of your social identity -- one day you’ll wake up and realize that "The Lives of Others" are not yours anymore and that you are no longer "a crowd of one."