Lately I’ve started to think more and more about how everything I put into Twitter and Facebook is akin to throwing my memories into a black hole. Links, thoughts, conversations, reviews, places, etc. – they are relevant as long as they show up on my main page. After that? Buried. Or worse on Twitter…gone (I’m not sure how long they allow you to search back nowadays, but I died a little the day they removed everything older than 6 months).
I’ve spoken about the signficance of us creating our histories in real time. It may not seem pressing for people today, but as we age, we’ll start to feel more and more attached to this and our children and grandchildren will benefit from our real-time diligence to details on how we lived.
And to tell you the truth, I didn’t even recognize this as an issue until I was well into my addiction with social media. It first slapped me in the face the day I went to look for a conversation I had on Facebook a couple of months back. I logged in and opened my page. I typed the person’s name into the search box at the top. It pulled up their facebook page…but I was looking for the exchange between the two of us, not his page. So I went back to my page and started clicking on “Older Posts” (yes, technically it just loads them as you scroll down, but you know what I mean). Ten minutes later, I find the conversation, click on the link and I’m off to the races. Seriously. Ten minutes to scroll through about 6 weeks of posts. And yes, I’m pretty noisy, but imagine future generations!
Twitter has the ability to search, but it’s not so great and it only goes back a short time now (which seems to be getting shorter and shorter all of the time – couldn’t go back more than a page to search @’s the other day). I fondly remember the day I could link back to my original tweet. I should have taken a screenshot.
Okay, I get it, these sites could give a flying snake about me and my writing my history. There are backups for this stuff, right? But what about the more recent panic around Delicious shutting down? Whether it is a rumor or fact, it raised additional flags for people who rely on it and other properties we choose to store our resources on. The same thing could happen to Flickr or YouTube or any other site we rely on to store our digital lives. It’s not just storage, either. Sure, we can export and Backupify and whatever else, but without the context of the sites, the comments, the connections, the tags, the notes, etc., it’s just a bunch of data taking up space. Without being able to search, organize, share, interact with and comment on the content, it’s meh.
And sure, there are cool looking projects like Diaspora that show promise. I could also start syndicating everything into my very own open source CMS of sorts a la Drupal or Buddy Press. But it requires a good amount of extra work on my part and is a bit anti-social (Tara Island?) as all of my friends are on the latest, greatest network.
So what is there to do? I heard a great quote on Twitter today (that took me hella long to find in order to credit and it’s only a few hours old!):
And though the soft leather world image seems a little odd (and environmentally disastrous!), I get what he’s saying and agree that web standards are really the only way to go. Yeah, sure. Exportable data. Wa-hoo! Facebook now does it. Even Shwowp does it. But then what? The content is as much about the medium as it is about the message. Or, as McLuhan said (even before the social web existed), “The medium is the message”. Design decisions made in social networks effect our interactions on them and becomes part of the history itself (tagging, retweeting, notes, comments, etc). And social interactions around the content also add to that.
An XML file just doesn’t cut it.
This isn’t a new problem, of course. Lots of smart folks have been working on this for a long time. But the denizens of the social web go way beyond the geeks and early adopters. There are lots of people using the online tools that could be gone in a second tomorrow. It’s got to be easier than OpenID or XML files or even Microformats (though I think Microformats gets pretty close). It’s got to be easier than hosting it myself. At the very least, i should be able to search my Facebook content and see the history of my tweets somewhere (the Library of Congress will do this?). That we can’t do that seems ridiculous to me.
What do you think?