Book Review: “Mindsharing” by Lior Zoref

Mindsharing by Lior Zoref

 This book was more interesting than I thought it would be. This is a trendy topic, and the subtitle promises silliness: “The Art of Crowdsourcing Everything”.

Zoref is talking about what he calls “mindsharing”, which is basically using your social networds to crowdsource decision making about your life. This is an interesting mash up of social media (which he assumes you are using), social networking (which predated digital media), and crowdsourcing.

This is intended to be a popular book not a technical one, so it is heavy on the new-agey “you can optimize your life” vibe. It has the standard dozen anecdotes that demonstrate the magical powers of crowdsourcing, and lots of personal anecdotes, too. Sigh.

But the book is saved from being totally useless dreck by two factors. First, Zoref has a lot of experience walking the walk, and gives a lot of valuable pragmatic advice about how to do this stuff (the “art” which I’ll get back to). Second, he does a good job of explaining how this is actually something unique and new.

Zoref is talking about something that is pretty radical. It’s one thing to look up information to help personal decisions. It’s one thing to “crowdsouce” questions about User interface design, or even predictions about the future.

But he’s talking about crowdsourcing questions about the most personal things: relationships, parenting, health, careers, finances. Asking other people to counsel you on these very personal decisions.  How can this possibly work, and who would be crazy enough to do it?

The key factor is that he advocates using not the Internet in general, but your own social network, recruited and self selected to be trustworthy, on your side, but much broader than your closest confidants. (He calls this your personal “crowd”.) This is an interesting idea, and is something pretty much totally new with digital media.

He argues that this process requires some very specific things from your network. It must be large enough and diverse enough to be useful. Furthermore, they must be interested and connected to you by more than trivial or sporadic messages.

Some of the pragmatic advice he gives is about how to create such a network. You have to provide “value” to them, in the form of useful and interesting information and stories. The relationship must be respectful (no blatant selling, don’t over use the questions, be thankful), and demonstrate commitment.

To grow the network, you have to spread the net widely, inviting people in. They will self select, so you will get people who are committed enough to follow you.

Once you have such a network, “mindsharing” requires a leap into the abyss. The kind of questions he is talking about are very personal, things that expose you and make you vulnerable. You definitely take a chance and risk a lot if you expose yourself to this “crowd”.  He notes, probably correctly, that opening up an being vulnerable show sincere commitment, and elicit altruistic responses.

He tells us that, amazingly enough, such a process really works, and works well. He believes that people are altruistic and want to sincerely help each other. When you set the stage correctly with a good social network, personal commitment, and properly designed question, the response is gratifying and very helpful. Your “personal crowd” are on your side.

Zoref is careful to note that you need a pretty large crowd (250 or so), which give diversity, and to assure that in the likely event that only a fraction respond to a given question, there will be enough to be useful.

A crowd of this size by definition and design extends beyond your family and best friends. These are “weak connections” in your network, which are the source of new ideas and less biased advice. In other words, the scaling made possible by digital media make possible this new form of exploiting large numbers of weak connections. This is really interesting insight and deserves serious study.

He advocates using this “personal crowd” as a coach, cheerleader, and adviser for every aspect of your life. Everything. From buying a car, to diagnosing illness, to disciplining you children can be “mindshared”. Finding a date? Going on a date? Staying married? He thinks that a personal crowd, if you dare, can help you.

Wow!

I admit that this is way beyond my own personal experience, and also totally outside any comfort zone I will ever inhabit.  But it is a really interesting idea and deserves serious examination.

I had a bunch of questions that immediately jumped to mind.

Zoref lives in Israel, and I have to say that some of his personal experience may or may not carry across other cultures. Some of the advice he reports truly seems reasonable for Tel Aviv, but not at all what I would expect where I live. Even more, as he recounts, Israelis are relatively outgoing and willing to give intimate advice to strangers, regardless of digital media.In other words, his “mindsharing” is particularly compatible with Israeli social patterns.

What about other places? Many other places are quite a bit less social in this way.  (Japan? Ireland?  Iran?)   How does this technologically enhanced coaching and advising carry across the world? I can’t say, but it is an interesting question to investigate.

For that matter, this book only offers subjective testimony about the quality and value of this process. Clearly, Zoref is happy with his own results, though it is difficult for us to really judge whether he should be, or what role his mindhsaring may have played in his successes.   How should we evaluate “mindsharing”? How does it really work? When and for whom does it work or not work?

Altogether, this is a thought provoking and interesting book that deserves serious attention and serious research.

I should comment that mindsharing is not for many people, starting with me. Not. Happening. Here. No way I’d ever do it. For starters, I don’t do commercial social media.  (Their business model consists me selling myself to their advertisers, and they keep the money .  No thanks.)  For another, I don’t open up on the Internet, period.  Regardless of what special group is the intended recipient, the Internet must always be assumed to be  both permanent and completely public.


  1. Lior Zoref, Mindesharing: The Art of Crowdsourcing Everything, New York, Penguin, 2015.

 

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