In most cases, your content is not created in isolation. It’s connected to others within a content ecosystem.
You create something new when you reflect upon someone else’s content. And it happens in reverse when they reflect upon your content. Either way, these contributions add up to something greater than the sum of its parts.
Let’s say you create a blog where you post quotes, photos, and videos that you find interesting. The blog itself, as an aggregate, is a new expression even though the components were created by someone else. A friend of ours has created a blog at Tumblr (shown on page 35). The collection of entries on his tumblelog is uniquely shaped by his interests and expresses a new idea, one that’s greater than the ideas that each original object expresses individually. Even if you do not have a blog, you’re doing the same thing when you share a link on Facebook—perhaps to say you “like” this book. It’s another way of saying that you identify with the content in question.
Increasingly, social websites allow us to respond to the content of others, and vice versa. The most classic example is a comment on a blog. After reading the post, you can add your own ideas at the end. Often this starts a conversation between two or more people. Your comment is clearly marked as yours, but it has a relationship back to the author of the article or to other comments. In this case, your comment is a new creation that reflects on their post and your attitudes.
Regardless of who starts the conversation, these interactions add to your own content and to theirs at the same time. Internet-based communication has given us the first reliable opportunity to document and study these shared interactions. It’s helped us realize that you can learn a lot about a person from the way others respond to them. Fascinating stuff. Your participation is part of your collection. Your participation in these interactions is a creation of your own.
You should also know that these interactions are not generally as drawn-out a process as this analysis might suggest. It happens rapidly and almost without notice. Twitter is a great example. To many, Twitter is an information network. It’s how they remain connected to the happenings among their friends and around the world. Let’s say that you post a tweet that offers your opinion on a current event. Others who agree or disagree could decide to respond by expressing their view. Those who agree might retweet or post a copy of your message, sending your opinion out to their followers with their blessing. They are effectively aggregating your thoughts along with others into their profile. Or they might agree only in part and add their own new thoughts. Others might respond by creating new posts that disagree, but, in all cases, they have reflected on your original post.
New forms of communication continue to break down the separation between creation and reflection. These acts of communal content creation stretch our understanding of ownership. But regardless of who owns it, your contribution adds to your digital collection.