You want to re-share a post? That's cool. You want it to mean something? Add your thoughts.
My friend told me a story the other night that got me thinking about sharing online -- and offline, too. He's 28, on his way to becoming an engineer, and he recently moved back in with his parents. The economy hasn't been easy on most of us, especially those with families to feed, but the lack of opportunity affects us all in one way or another -- for people around my age (I'm 25), moving back in to our parents' place is sometimes the only option left. And sometimes, it happens more than once.

Anyway, my friend's story started out with a declaration about how passive-aggressive his father is. We'll call my friend A for clarity's sake -- A's father left a clipped out newspaper article on the kitchen counter. It was just an article, there was no note written on it -- no real context, no explanation. The article was about the "Boomerang Generation" (read about it on Wikipedia:, which is a term coined for children who return home to live with their parents after trying their hand at independence.

My friend felt like his dad was passing judgment by leaving the article on the kitchen counter; as a member of an immigrant family where such a dynamic would not be surprising, it seemed perfectly obvious to A that his father was quietly, passively judging him for ending up back in the nest. After a bit of brooding, A decided to confront his dad. Shocked by A's reaction, he quickly explained that he meant only to show his son that he was not alone. "Everyone is going through this, you are not a failure." That was the real message behind the article clipping.

If A's dad had just written that on the piece of paper, there would have been no confusion!

This got me thinking about how we share content on platforms like Facebook or Google+. Facebook is a place reserved for my private communication with real life friends, so what does it really mean when someone I know links to an article but says nothing to go along with it? It ceases to be personal communication, for one. I don't necessarily care to read articles my friends share if their interests are different from mine, but when someone chooses to share something he or she finds important, that dynamic changes, and the only way to communicate that sense of importance is to add a statement or question to the share.

On a network like Google+, sharing behavior is even more complex because many of us do not simply follow our real life friends. Many of us use Google+ to live publicly as well as privately, and when we choose to share content, we may not be simply linking to articles we found off-site, but rather to posts made on the network itself.

Why do you re-share publicly?
#Ripples encourage us to re-share content publicly, but what compelled us to do it before that feature was rolled out? Do we want to show that we are clued in? Are we seeking to give the content in question more exposure? In either case, wouldn't it make more of an impact to add a "review," or at least an explanation of what the content means to us? Sometimes it's as simple as asking your own audience a question about the content in order to start a conversation.

Look at what the "big guys" do. I suspect their behavior is important because it gives us an idea of what generates engagement. +Robert Scoble will often link to another Google+ post rather than using the re-share button, and he has repeatedly explained that this behavior stems from the desire to let others share the whole package over again -- his thoughts included. That gives people the chance to take a very noisy conversation to a new place with an altered prompt, and when you really think about it, that makes perfect sense. Scoble has hundreds of thousands of people reading his posts, and many of them comment so quickly that it's tough to keep track of the conversation. More tools are needed to address this, but in the mean time, doesn't it just make more sense to take the conversation in a direction you're interested in on your own profile? Scoble compared the Google+ community to a restaurant once, implying that at every table there is a conversation. When it's a public table, anyone can join in. Isn't that the beauty of public sharing, really?

+Mike Elgan shares many posts that link offsite, but I don't think I've ever seen him link to something without adding a thought, even if it's as simple as a question he wants to pose to his own readers about the link. Mike is so good at engaging his audience that his posts are often too comment-ridden to jump into comfortably if you come to the party late, so why not re-share with your own comment as the post? It takes nothing away from Mike's post -- in fact, it helps you both. You're showing that Mike shared something compelling enough to inspire you, and you're showing that you understand what he said and that you have opinions about it. You get a fresh start for a conversation about what inspired you. Everybody wins.

You should also comment on the original post if you feel you can contribute to that conversation, of course. On less well-known profiles, in fact, that's usually the best way to show support and engage with the poster.

Personal sharing needs meaning, too.
Google+ has been repeatedly touted as a platform for engagement and sharing rather than a broadcasting medium, although it certainly can do both jobs. If you want to really make an impact on someone, it is my belief that you shouldn't share without context. If my friend's dad had shared that article on Facebook with just his son -- or even with all members of the household -- it would have probably had the same impact on my friend as it did being printed out and left on the kitchen table. All his father would have needed to do to eliminate any anxiety would have been to add just one sentence to the share -- "You're not alone." A shared article then becomes a personal message of hope rather than a possible negative judgment. Consider that the next time you share a post to someone specific.

How do you decide what to share? Do you usually just re-share with no comment? What makes you do that, if so?
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