Ephemera and Permanence — Tweets for Life

Respectfully, Doc, I think you underestimate the value of the permatweet.

I’m still haunted by hearing that users get a maximum number Twitter postings (tweets) before the old ones scroll off. If true, it means Twitter is a whiteboard, made to be erased after awhile. The fact that few know what the deal is, exactly, also makes my point. Not many people expect anybody, including themselves, to revisit old tweets.

The flow-by web is great for sampling the current pulse of selected friends, an ephemeral dipping of the news ladel into a current river of updates. Yet it is also a place where people share things they often don’t share elsewhere, which makes it a great fishing pond for lightweight pointers to interesting media.

I have often used my own tweet stream–or others’–as a reference point when looking for websites or YouTube videos I first saw in the update stream. This happens consistently with media that’s fun enough to tweet but not important enough to blog. Often, in ordinary conversations, I find myself referring to resources I linked to in a prior tweet. Sometimes I just piont them to my Twitter account. Other times, I look it up myself and email the link.

Perhaps that works for me more than most because I don’t tweet that frequently, so my history is relatively compact. However, everyone’s tweets stick around, see My First Tweet as a case in point. In fact, it is perhaps more problematic that people consider these tweets gone, when, in fact, they are not.   Even though it is possible to delete your tweets from you stream history, it doesn’t remove them from all the downstream syndicators and third-party clients.

People should have more control over the lifetime of our shared information. In particular, it seems to me that people should be able to share information in one of two modes: at-will and on-the-record.

At-will posts can be erased by the owner at will, whenever they want, thus avoiding those embarrassing photos–and the resulting oppression from the future that keeps us from living fully in the present.

On-the-record posts are taken to be additions to the permanent record, with all parties understanding that they will be (or should be) always accessible. This allows for statement by officials operating in their official function, statements of policy, contractual agreements, and similar permanent records.

Everyone should be able to decide in which mode they want to share information, just as we can select a Creative Commons license as an alternative to copyright.  A simple microformat-style tagging system would go a long way to enabling a self-asserted, voluntary compliance approach.  Even better would be a data sharing protocol that could actually assure that compliant parties erase the at-will data when we no longer want those hot tubbing photos shared publicly.

Instead, we currently have a lot of frustration and surprises when people share information in one context only to find it appearing in another, undesirable one, some unpredictable time in the future. SMS messages, emails and Facebook photos, all show up in the most inopportune places and times. Managing these contexts–and the information we share in each–is vital in a world where we fluidly flip contexts as quickly as kaleidescopes change color.

As a co-proposer of the User Managed Access working group and acting co-chair of the User Driven & Volunteered Personal Information workgroups at Kantara, I am hoping we can find a way to make this new model work. Because the current model is too fragmented to be managed reasonably, and it is only going to fragment further unless we start to unify around user-driven principles or something similar.

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3 Responses to Ephemera and Permanence — Tweets for Life

  1. Doc Searls says:

    Those are great ideas, Joe.

    Not sure I’m underestimating the value of permatweets, though. My post was more about finding distinctions between social media and blogging, and giving blogging some respect it seems to have lost.

    Still, it’s very early. Which is why there’s plenty of room for working on new approaches and improvements to old ones. You rock at that. 🙂

    So keep going with it.

    • Joe says:

      Fair enough.

      In my experience blogging has shifted a key portion of its value precisely because the lightweight pointers are much better suited to tweets or microblogging. That shifts blog posts to more substantive long form media, with a lot less “look at what I found” posts. That means a good portion of the “buzz building” that blogs used to drive is more in the realtime web than just the live web (twitter v blogs).

      But I like the specialization. Blogs are a great format for the personal soapbox, allowing for grand oration… whereas tweets are good for brief exclamations and delightful surprises.

      Highlighting the transience of tweets in your post, though, missed that key distinction that although the river is constantly flowing by, it is also fully indexed for posterity… or at least it could be, even when it might not be, a la the Wayback Machine.

      THAT’s part of what is amazing about the web, the blogosphere, and the twitterverse. Not only can anyone say anything they want, linking into multi-faceted global conversations, but it can all be accessed forever (in theory). Newcomers to a plotline can scan the prior discussion and ramp up to speed on the key points. When the web is your primary vehicle for discourse, it makes for an incredibly transparent and accessible commons.

      Now if we can just establish user choice regarding the permanance of contributions to the commons, we’ll have something even more amazing: not just freedom to say anything anytime, but the freedom to change our minds in the future, to change, to evolve, to become more or different from what we once were. That would not only free our future self from the questionable behavior in our past, but also free our current self from the oppression of worrying about future exposure. A huge win.

      In fact, I wish the EFF understood this relationship between controlling future disclosure to enable freedom today. http://news.slashdot.org/story/09/08/13/1214244/EFF-Says-Burning-Man-Usurps-Digital-Rights?art_pos=1&art_pos=1

  2. Iain Henderson says:

    Interesting thanks Joe, I like the ‘at will’ and ‘on the record’ distinction and look forward to drilling down into that in VPI mode.

    There is also an interesting parallel with the terms ‘operational data’ and ‘analytical data’ i’ve used in personal data store discussions. Whilst not precisely the same as those you refer to, the share some characteristics in terms of their persistence/availability for ongoing use.



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