Community Question: Lifestreaming

With the closing of several Google services I’ve been thinking about some of the content I (and a bunch of other people) publish across the social web. So much that I want to get some ideas about what many of you think about it all. If you step back and think about how many new people are joining and actively participating in social networks, one has to consider where we go from here. What do we do to protect the emergence of our meta identities — each crafted in small pieces across many networks. As a simple example, take a look at the emergence of Facebook with adults … according to a new report issued by the Pew Internet & American Life Project’s December 2008 tracking survey:

The share of adult internet users who have a profile on an online social network site has more than quadrupled in the past four years — from 8% in 2005 to 35% now.

That is a whole lot of people creating lots of real data about themselves and their relationships. Even if you don’t worry about closures or server meltdowns, consider the following from a post on Read Write Web:

The most obvious example of this loss of access to lifestream data? The inability to access anything beyond beyond page 162 on Twitter. No matter how many times you’ve posted, you cannot go back any further than 3240 tweets. So, every new public message you send removes one from your history. (To see this in action, simply add “?page=162” to the end of any Twitter user’s default URL.) Those who had seen Twitter as a journal of sorts for recording fleeting moments for posterity, suddenly found those moments just as fleeting online.

I’ve talked to lots of people who think that their Twitter streams belong to them. The reality is that we are trapping our thoughts, relationships, and content in someone else’s microblog. It has bothered me since we used Twitter in my CI 597C course — much of the course dialogue happened in the backchannel there and much of it is lost. Clearly this only one small example, but I am guessing you get the idea.

So I am curious about what kinds of strategies we should be considering as we continue down this path? I doubt the answer is to stop participating — the ship has left the port and it isn’t coming back in. What do we think?

6 thoughts on “Community Question: Lifestreaming

  1. I guess that I view twitter as a conversation for the most part, just as if it were happening in an office or on the street, or in someone’s home and so I don’t generally worry about KEEPING those tweets.. just like I wouldn’t consider that if I was having a conversation offline. When I upload photos or anything else that I feel is ‘important’ to me – I always keep a backup on my own machine or an external drive. I think it depends how we view our content. I think if we know that something said on twitter is important and something we’d want to capture, we can always search it and then save it into another format that we’ll have (for a course, or TLT, or things like that – or anything we’d like to keep a record of, I guess).

  2. I first got to thinking about this in May when this episode of CBC Spark aired. It was particularly moving because it involved children and their virtual world and all their creations:

    What does this mean for us? Who knows? Do we expect more form free services than paid? Do we ask our legislators to step in and require exit plans for our data?

    Remember when we didn’t have the option to carry our cell phone numbers our email addresses forward with providers? Perhaps this, too, is just part of a transitional phase. In the long run, things may work out and in the mean time we’re just feeling the growing pains of the new way of doing things.

    Of course, as Keynes once put it, “In the long run, we’re all dead.”

  3. I’ve been caught in the twitter trap too–went to retrieve something and couldn’t get back to it. However, about 50% of me feels that we just have to let some things go. Although we take many online tools for granted, it’s the nature of these ephemeral beasts that many will disappear. We’ll need to make it a habit to capture the important stuff for ourselves. That being said, I have lots of valuable files at home on floppy discs. Obviously I need to practice what I preach.

    The other 50% of me (the librarian side) worries a lot about obsolescence, digital preservation, sustainability, and especially protecting my identity. I’m sure that those concerns will not keep me from participating, but they can and should change our habits and practices for managing our information.

  4. Cole

    There seem to be two fundamentally different issues that need discussion here. One is about how we can self-protect against shutdown of service – creating personal archives, multiple different publishing sites, etc. I’m not a twitter guy, but I do author my blog posts outside the blog and keep a local copy of the post. I try to do likewise for image, audio, and video files. It is definitely not perfect, not even close, but it is certainly better than nothing.

    The other issue is whether we should be laying guilt trips on vendors for canceling “free” services that we have come to like. I’m going to argue the opposite. We should continue to use these services, indeed we should encourage our faculty to do likewise, and then if those services prove unprofitable respect the decision to cancel them.

    There’s an adding up issue that needs to be confronted. The technology changes fairly rapidly. There are real costs in providing the services. And what we have to “spend” is limited. That leaves staying with the tried and true or innovating with regularity but then killing off the less popular services, also with regularity. I’d vote for the second. Some might vote for the first. I think that’s the real issue.


  5. Lanny … thanks for the comment and the thoughts. I do the same with all of my online content except for twitter — I keep local copies of the content and use the web as a place to share and archive offsite. So far it hasn’t been a problem. As far as venders closing services, I honestly have no problem with it — it is their decisions. I would however prefer if they were a little more open about what tools are making the grade for them. I think those who use tools that end up going away would obviously like a little advance notice that things are being shut down. A little time to migrate content would be helpful. I am still torn on encouraging faculty to use tools outside our domain for work … on one hand I cannot keep up with the needs, but I fear that by encouraging them to travel into unstable waters I could be costing myself professional capital.

    Either way, I think at the end of the day we need to stay aware of what is available and be thinking about how it plays in an academic setting.

  6. Cole

    I can see the possibility of the big guys going for more disclosure as a matter of policy because for their next round of new services they are likely going after the same people who used other services they previously canceled, and these people want to know the game is fair. I can’t really see start ups doing this, because announcements of this sort are likely to discourage use. This doesn’t mean the big guys will do it, but at least we have an argument to make to them.

    I’m not sure I’ve got much sway with faculty, but I’d argue that if you can demonstrate a substantial convenience benefit then people will use the service. I’m a big proponent of because the subscription version does exactly what I want it to with video – keep it password protected but nonetheless allow me to embed in a Web page of my choosing. We don’t have Campus tools to do that now. In spite of the cancellation of other services by Google, Google Docs usage by faculty has to be on the upswing because it is so useful. So I think our job is to point out the benefit and let the faculty pick and choose.


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