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On Facebook, Memories That Floated Downstream

February 1, 2010

Anyone who knows me well knows that I’m a real sentimentalist, someone who occasionally broods or laments, and a romantic to the core.

As someone who loves the written word, my Gmail account has allowed me to retain valuable correspondences that I’ve had with friends, family, and the women I’ve loved. They capture interesting periods in my life that I wouldn’t necessarily share on my blog or a social network. Some of these notes, in fact, I will be the only person to ever read. Some contain prettier sentences than anything I’ve ever written for any public audience.

For some carefully selected stuff — especially some long form e-mails that read like formal letters — I will archive it in a safe place for my family to access if something ever happened to me. These correspondences give context around my life, details that I never would have shared publicly but that I’m happy for them to read. This isn’t borne out of a bombastic notion that my life is some sort of dramatic saga. It’s more that I’d like for them to understand my thinking around certain decisions, the thoughts behind those successes and failures. I want them to learn from them, so their lives are even richer than mine.

But some of the less intimately private moments are very much worth capturing as well, and unlike Google’s innovative search and labeling in Gmail, most consumer social networks — namely Facebook — are failing to preserve and recapture these bits of information that, collectively, tell a larger story about one’s life. Facebook’s philosophical approach that the Web is more about connecting People than Information made a fine marketing alternative slogan to Google, but it wasn’t pragmatic enough. People also want access to the things they shared later on, sometimes much later on. (Even some of us real time technology fans).

The world isn’t just about pictures, which is the only thing Facebook seems to catalog about us with any method that allows for meaningful discovery in the future (and even then, it’s not easy to scroll back in time). Facebook’s real time search, meanwhile, should really be called “things that happened fairly recently.” It only allows you to row a mile or two upstream, but not that far into the past in any meaningful way. Worsening the problem is the fact the syntax or prose contained within old status messages (even if FB search culls that far back) will be too generic for an algorithm to find reliably. It saddens me, because a collection of those words might be something very beautiful or interesting in their totality. For example, it’s going to be hard to find a status message you wrote New Years eve two years ago, and compare it to one from four years ago. All these snippets, holistically in some way, tell a story just like those e-mails. And right now, it’s all being lost.

I’m sure there are some tools in the Facebook developer ecosystem that help with this problem, but I think it’s too important a thing for Facebook to outsource or divorce from its out-of-the-box service. I also think Facebook is missing a critical opportunity for increased user lock-in that it already seems to enjoy (as I’ve often said, Facebook will never be a Friendster).

Facebook may have saved all these messages — at the very least for economic reasons. However, even if Facebook launches something tomorrow that allowed us to capture and tag new content with greater granularity and purpose, I worry the stuff of the past is lost. This is a tragedy for people who have been on the service a long time, especially those of us who joined it in their prime years. Apart from pictures, the great stuff we posted flowed down the real time stream and into an Ocean of databases for ad research, and I can only hope I’m able to find them again someday.

One Comment leave one →
  1. VRockica permalink
    March 28, 2010 10:31 pm

    Very good article, my friend.

    I enjoyed it thoroughly.

    I wonder how many others of us desire word-document related archiving with ease.

    Good point about the tagging.
    The tags for this blog are a bit random though.

    Personally, I see facebook as fleeting but if I lost the content of my photo albums from 2007, I’d be crushed.

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