Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Webster's Dictionary selects 'overshare' as Word of the Year

I woke up Tuesday morning and found out my blog had been linked by an unusual source — the dictionary.

Webster’s New World Dictionary has selected “overshare” as its Word of the Year. They link to a variety of great sources, including the original piece by Emily Gould and to me.

Specifically, they link to my column about The Overshare War and to the Rex Sorgatz post that inspired it.

Webster’s defines: overshare (verb): to divulge excessive personal information, as in a blog or broadcast interview, prompting reactions ranging from alarmed discomfort to approval.

I’m delighted to see “overshare” get the respect it deserves. Oversharing isn’t exclusive to the Internet, but before the Internet, there was a limit to how much trouble an individual act of oversharing could cause. Oversharing at a dinner party might be awkward, but real-life indescretions are less likely to travel around the world and be archived in Google.

I’m generally pleased with Webster’s definition and I’m always happy to have my name associated with “alarmed discomfort.”

Now that we’ve accepted “overshare,” I’d like to define its opposite. “Undershare” may not sound as cool as the original, but it’s an important concept, and I’d like to get it out there.

undershare (verb): to ruin a blog with vague, stilted or legalistic prose, as in a political speech or press release

If readers are expecting honesty, candor and personal disclosure and end up with legalese or corporate boilerplate instead, that’s undersharing.

This goes back to the first column I ever wrote. If it’s not personal, don’t call it a blog. I’m not saying Chris Matthews needs to post pictures of his kittens at MSNBC, but blogs need to sound like blogs — clear writing in short paragraphs, written as if you’re talking directly to the audience.

Generation Y really is The Overshare Generation. They’re used to getting their information straight up, unfiltered and direct. They don’t just ignore obective prose, they’re actually put off by it, as if anyone writing in third-person has something to hide.

I’m not saying every news story needs to sound like a blog post (yet), but Internet readers expect an intimate first-person voice, even when they’re reading about Darfur or the stock market.

Undersharing happens on the personal level as well. When a family member turns their blog into a commercial for Herbalife, for example, or when a beloved Usenet personality turns his blog into a half-assed advertisement for his newspaper column…

Oversharing may look like a fad, but I believe it represents a larger cultural shift. The baseline of our public discourse is changing. Readers have grown suspicious of press releases and corporate doublespeak, particularly after what’s been done to our economy.

These bank failures were facilitated by a culture of deception that used weasel-words and clever accounting to hide the truth from investors.

The economic collapse has made readers suspicious of vague numbers and vague language. Readers need straight talk and hard facts, interpreted by people who don’t believe everything they read. Increasingly, we’re going to see people turn away from “official” information sources and seek out sources that sound like real people.

Bloggers need to engage their audience on a human level. I don’t care if you’re blogging for PETA, General Electric, or the White House — if you want your readers to take you seriously, you have to show them the person behind the screen.

Anything less is undersharing, and in a world crippled by half-truth and broken promises, it’s a luxury we can’t afford.

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Written by Michael B. Duff

December 16, 2008 at 13:33

Posted in Culture

2 Responses

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  1. Gratz on the high-profile linkage, Duff. 🙂

    Scott

    December 16, 2008 at 16:23

  2. What about someone like Don May? Mr. Conservative blog. He overshares false information. I am banned from writing there because I tell the truth!

    JohnnyHughes

    December 17, 2008 at 07:35


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