Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Is it safe? Is it yours?

I want a place for my stuff. According to George Carlin, finding that place is the purpose of life. Stuff includes:

  • Content I've published: text, photos, videos, code (hey, geek author here)
  • Personal communications
  • My comments including the subject matter
  • Other metadata: tagging, liking items (again, including the target content)
  • Places I've been, things I've seen, what I've read 
  • Business accounts, financial statements, records of transactions
  • Scheduled and triggered events: auto bill pay, stock market triggers

Stuff is not as meaningful without the context:

  • Where and when was the content originally posted
  • The author(s)
  • The state of the community (size, activity)
  • Who else liked, read, or commented on it
  • Was the content obscure or "trending"
  • Who brought it to my attention
  • When did I encounter the item
  • Where, geographically, was I at the time
  • Snapshots of referenced items (state of the Web at the time)

A documented roadmap better exist before a FriendFeed  is acquired by a Facebook, before the transaction is even made public. Customers deserve to know what is going to happen. Will the site be shut down? When? What migration options are available? Uncertainty, even a rumor, can harm a community. A long silence from the buyer means that management didn't think things through, or, perhaps, they don't care about your stuff.

When a site goes away, a community is dispersed, dislocated. The soul of the community is gone. The content could be transferred, but the full meaning is lost forever. Software helped bring the data to life. Sorry, too sappy? Translated to geek-speak: the functioning application created relationships that won't be apparent in the data dump, i.e., implicit relationships.

Come to think of it, stuff gets lost all the time without a site being shut down. How much history does Twitter retain? Saving tweets somewhere else is a poor solution, especially for cryptic replies. In a year, old tweets, out of context, will read like one side of a telephone conversation.

Twitter, Facebook, and the rest continue to evolve. The functionality, feel, and community are always in flux. People will need to go back. They may not think so now. After all, it's just a bunch of of silly exchanges. But I guarantee that there will be a real need, both historical, emotional, and legal. The experience, the memories triggered, the emotions evoked, will be enhanced if the period's look and behavior can be replicated.

The same thing happens with the old box under the desk. Computer owners have control over when to upgrade and what to keep; however, they don't know how to migrate their data to a new system. It's a painful process even for old nerds. I don't lose data from personal systems, but migration takes forever and side-effects always include a migraine. For most, losing data was OK years ago, but now our lives are recorded on 7200 rpm platters. Grandma and Grandpa have been emailing for years and they are navigating complicated web sites to see their grandchildren.

The Web offers the greatest potential for solving these problems. Organizations should take our data seriously. Stuff may not be the purpose of life; however, it better be a top priority of corporations, government, and other organizations.

Keep our data safe and give us complete control. No fees allowed for moving. We shouldn't have to be genius engineers with a week to burn in order to migrate. Organizations have data stewardship whether they know it or not. Some will realize what that means only after it's too late to salvage public trust.

No comments:

Post a Comment