Welcome to the Social Black Hole. Population: YOU

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!):

“Would you rather pave the world in soft leather or buy yourself a nice pair of shoes?” (via @timoreilly quoting Adam Greenfield

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?

Categories: community, featured, personal, vrm

Author:Tara Hunt

Strategist. Researcher. Interdisciplinarian. Founder, Lime Foundry + Buyosphere. Author, The Whuffie Factor. Speaker. Mother. Karaoke lover.


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8 Comments on “Welcome to the Social Black Hole. Population: YOU”

  1. December 17, 2010 at 15:29 #

    There are times when I’m thinking about something and I realize, “I think I wrote about this or read about it before.” Maybe I’m writing a blog post on the topic. Maybe someone has asked me a question, and I know that I saw the answer a few weeks ago, or a few years ago.

    And I get as frustrated as you do.

    Twitter and Facebook aren’t the only offenders. My blogs are in Blogger, and I have problems searching them, even though Blogger is part of the Google empire.

    But for me the prime offender is FriendFeed (now under Facebook’s control). A lot of my information has flowed into FriendFeed over the years, including blog posts, Google Reader shares, last.fm loved songs, and the like. FriendFeed would be the ideal place to find things. However, when I use FriendFeed’s search facility, more often than not I get the following message:

    “Service Unavailable

    “We encountered an error on your last request. Our service is new, and we are just working out the kinks. We apologize for the inconvenience.”

    I realize that the lights are (mostly) out at FriendFeed, but it would be nice if someone updated FriendFeed’s error message.

    I would love to put posts into historical context, but it is often difficult to do so.

    I realize that many users of Facebook are not technical, but I would still think that Facebook would provide a facility to allow those users to find old stuff in their feeds. If Facebook, Google, and Twitter would improve their searchability among all their properties, then perhaps other services would follow their lead.

  2. December 18, 2010 at 03:08 #

    I’m with Karen Carpenter: We’ve only just begun.

  3. December 18, 2010 at 09:28 #

    Removed, or archived? It’s not clear to me that you can’t go back further than six months, if you’re willing to dig…

  4. December 20, 2010 at 02:27 #

    Apparently you’re not the only one thinking about this. I just came across this post: http://mattogle.com/archivefever/

  5. December 20, 2010 at 16:40 #


    This goes towards a recent history of Blogger with me. I’d been blogging for 4 years with a team of bloggers. The reader-base grew, our competence grew, and things were pretty exciting until Google’s Blogger accidentally deleted our Blog in a DB snafu. No apology, no support, and now there is nothing left of 4 years of my life. Whoa is me, right?

    In the end I wish there was someway to have archived that info and the rest of public life, including this comment into one unified profile–a sort of open transcript of me.

    Ho hum…just me two cents. Hope you are well.

    P.S. I have 16 yr old daughter not unlike your ambitious son. Congrats to you and him…

    David Koehn
    Product Strategy
    Saba People Learning
    in: http://linkedin.com/in/davidkoehn
    w: sabasociallearning.com
    b: http://greatamericanstartup.blogspot.com

  6. December 20, 2010 at 17:52 #

    David Koehn makes an important point: even when an online service intends to maintain history, it sometimes fails. This is why once a month I take my own backups of every online service that I consider important. The resulting XML files or whatever may not be in a terribly nice form, but if an online service happens to lose my data at least I’ll have something that I can reconstruct from.

  7. December 21, 2010 at 04:41 #

    Hi Tara,

    I’ve felt as frustrated as you trying to look back over previous conversations or post interactions with Facebook or Twitter contacts.

    Have you ever looked at Radian 6? They provide SM monitoring and more recently, an engagement panel. This enables you to look at previous conversations with a contact and groups them together under your tasks- it’s brilliant and very time saving.


    Hope that helps?

  8. Evren Kiefer
    December 24, 2010 at 08:55 #

    I share your frustration with this. To do backups, I use Backupify. But backup and archive aren’t the same thing.

    I wish there was a piece of software that could take all my output, clean the markup, save the linked images, videos and sound files, and finally store the result in a single place from which I could import it on my machine.


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