It's been very interesting to see how the internet and social networking have affected the idea of permission amongst individuals. I was made aware of this most recently when I inquired about a certain organization and received no answer to my question, yet was on their mailing list the next day. This prompted me to consider what is happening with permission in the age of social networking. Below are my findings:
1. You do not need permission to "follow" someone- This is probably the most interesting. When I sign in to twitter, I need not ask anyone if it's ok to "follow" them, I just click follow and they either accept or they do not. Unlike Facebook though, I do not accept or reject the request, I get a notification that someone is following me and if I very much dislike this, then I can opt out. So it's kind of like going out to eat and sitting across from someone who decides to start eating off of your plate until you tell them to stop. This creates a culture of not asking for permission which then bleeds into other mediums.
2. Most online platforms have changed from "opt in" to "opt out"- When you sign up for anything these days, you'll find that the system has already checked off that you would like to be added to the mailing list, or you would like to receive special offers and you have to physically unclick each item. In the hurried nature of our online web lives, we most often skip through this and then the emails pile up. Most of the time we have no idea we signed up.
3. Small commitments make it easier to break rules- You would never go into a room and just start following someone around. You'd be labeled a stalker and probably be asked to leave, but each of these platforms make the commitment so tiny and so tacit that most people just allow it as a matter of course. If I add you as a friend on Facebook, I'm not saying let's hang out every night for the rest of our lives, I'm saying I'd like to stay in touch with you. It's easier and therefore more tenable. The same goes for following. So if I no longer need to ask permission in each of those scenarios, what's my next step up? The mailing list.
Here's where the problem lies.
My inbox is more private than my facebook account or Twitter feed and demands more of my time and attention. It is the online version of my house. I don't just leave the doors of my house open and yet, people come climbing through the window, in through the door, or the ceiling all the time! Why? because they think they are allowed.
I didn't give them permission, but like Kramer in Senfield, they will keep coming in until I opt out.
So the major lessons for those of you who manage email lists:
1. If you don't respond to me and then put me on your email list, I'm off your email list.
2. If you get me on your list because I forgot to opt out, I'll be sure to opt out the second the email comes in.
3. Ask permission before you send, do not just rely on your server's opt out option.
Lastly, I am happy to have you over at my house, but please knock first.