“Information about me” and “information for me” – what is personal in PIM

There is a nice blog post by David Karger about information "about me" and information "for me".

"About me" is information about us and we might have control over it (e.g. our Facebook, Twitter streams) or might not (e.g. information other people post about us on-line or in public space).
"For me" is information that we can manage, it fulfils our needs and it might be about us (eg. appointments in our calendars) or not (my mp3 files in our music library).

I just had a discussion on this issue with Alan when I remembered this post. David pretty much covers it all, but if focusing on the management, several instances between "information about me" and "information for me" in the social context come up. With the social context I mean sharing personal information as defined by Jones [1]. 

(I) Controlled or owned by me
(II) About me without my control over it e.g. bank records
(III) Directed toward me e.g. phone calls
(IV) Sent or posted by me for others e.g. emails, web pages
(V) Experienced by me e.g. a book in the library and
(VI) Relevant to me but I haven’t discovered it yet

If we stick to these 6 types of personal information, "about me" strictly falls into the group (II) while "for me" in the group (I). Although (I), (III), (IV), (V) and even (VI) can or not be about me, while (II) is about me only. Examples of info about me (I) my bank statement I keep in a folder, (III) a sent passport by the government to my home address, (IV) photos about me I post on-line, (V) an autobiography book I have(n’t) authored in the library and (VI) something about me I don’t know yet. Likewise the are examples of information not about me under each of these categories.

So what are these in-between instances of personal information in the social context (for others to consume) I mentioned before?

1. Information that we have (some) control over it – we manage it. This can be either information about me and/or information for me (which in the social context could also reveal a lot about me as well). There are three different types of such information:

  • Information that we manage primarily for ourselves, but also make it publicly available for others to consume (this information is not necessarily about us but can reveal a lot if information about us). Examples include Delicious, Mendeley, Amazon wish list, etc.
  • Information that we usually manage for ourselves only, but individual items or even collections are shared with known end-users (information could be about us or not). Examples are Google Docs, Dropbox, Sharepoint, etc. (if publicly available can also fall under previous group).
  • Information that we publish (sometimes even manage in categories) with the intention for others to consume and is in general about us (but not only). This includes blogs, social networks, personal web pages, etc.

2. Information that we have no control over it (or maybe, if we stop socializing :)).

  • Information that we do not publish but is about us and we have not control over it such as our photos online posted by other people (company, friends …).

This second one (2.) is problematic. By definition, this is still personal information from the (II), although Jones mentions only medical, school, police, justice, bank or state records about us, which are usually not disclosed to the general public. We in general trust these institutions to take good care of information "about me". However, when information "about me" gets disclosed. we have no control over it (just imagine our credit card details sold on the black market or just the photo of us in the newspaper). Potentially can such disclosure cause real harm, but most of the time it might be just annoying (our friend uploading photos of our holidays, parties, etc.).

While the first one (1.) is still information "for me" even though we make it available to others as well. But it can be also information "about me" either directly (posting our photo on Flicker) or indirectly (posting our reading taste on Amazon wish list or hobbies on Delicious). Karger proposes a new term

  • End User Information Management

which better captures who is managing information – but IT DOESN’T equal to information "for me" only as we could manage it for others as well. This end user information management could be done to satisfy our needs (e.g. the need or better the wish to post holiday photos) or needs of others (e.g. our parents and friends who wish to see these photos). David for example mentions his management of music (old style PIM) which hopefully satisfies needs of others when he’s DJing. While the second in general (2.) satisfies just the needs of others!

To distinguish the type of management maybe these two axes should be considered:

  • who is managing personal information (we or others) and
  • whose needs this management satisfies (our needs, also needs of other or just needs of others).

And we would end up with six different categories of information like this (while each information could span over several cells):

Management of info \ Satisfying our needs our and/or needs of others needs of others
by me

by others

Each category of personal information should be then be weighted against privacy, policy controls, ethics and possibly other issues concerning the information in question. So there are not only "about me" and "for me". The issue is definitely more complex.

[1] Jones and Teevav, editors. Personal Information Management. University of Washington press. 2007