Digital Estate

my lasting imprint online

The Social Digital Legacy Era

Posted by Paul on March 31, 2009

When Facebook was originally envisioned, I’m pretty sure that few people could have foreseen how it would turn out a few years down the line. Over time we have clearly changed the way in which we interact with others on line, as well as the way we interact with the tools themselves. The same is also true of many of the ‘first to market’ social networks that have organically evolved in recent years. Our use has now changed to the point where there are some glaring contradictions that are either ignored or not recognized in the ways we connect and share online.

Top 5 (ish) Contradictions in Our Social Networks:
· The increasing amount of personal information being shared on open networks with barely known acquaintances
· The popularity of general purpose social networks in fulfilling specialized needs for our communities
· The brevity of our accounts versus the longevity of the content we create
· The value of our presence and contribution and the challenges in monetizing it
· The ownership of valued networks and information versus the policies which currently govern them
· The singularity and clarity of a shared message/sentiment amid the noise of millions
· The connectivity created within the networks themselves with the restrictions in the interfaces between them
· The volume of information created, versus the lack of attention to retaining the information that has true value

Are these contradictions really a problem? My view: some are, some aren’t – and of course they are related. The key question to ask is: “Will these contradictions take care of themselves over time or is intervention required by us the social participants?”.

The monetization of our contribution and the value of information – people inherently understand that mass involvement means opportunity, and opportunity means money. The market will take care of the rest, and already is in Second Life and maybe soon in Facebook.

Sharing personal information on open social networks
– for now this is a problem. While the herd is getting larger, you can’t quite convince yourself that there really is safety in numbers. We the participants need to increase our social portfolios by choosing appropriate networks for the kinds of information we are sharing. This in-turn will reduce the barriers between networks and drive specialized networks tuned to our communication and information sharing needs. In the long run this will work itself out as people realize that sharing more personal information with more people doesn’t necessarily add more value.

The longevity and amount of information we create – for a couple of reasons this could be a problem for now.

Firstly, most established spaces will be reluctant to let go of the policy grip they have over the information we have put on “their” networks. In some cases these sites have responsibilities and have to spend money policing the content that gets uploaded. This will get worse as the war over digital rights continues and the monetization of our networks continues…. sounds a little like ownership don’t you think? Right now the issue of ownership has been left cloudy by stories of information retention on account closure and immortalization of deceased peoples accounts.

The second reason is a more lofty and for me more important issue; about what happens to our information once we are gone and what do we think is worth keeping. The idea that we should retain information is not a new one, but the suggestion that some content from our Facebook or Twitter account should be considered an information asset or information heirloom to be passed on, is quite a foreign concept to most. There are however a few forward thinkers out there already verbalizing this idea of a Digital Estate. I am excited to find out where this leads, but it’s often the lofty issues that get left by the wayside, and as a social networking entrepreneur I am not prepared to leave this to chance.

Most leaders of social networks are aware of at least one or two of these contradictions, since solving them secures their future or their fortune. Maybe it’s not wise of us to leave these decisions in the hands of the few – after all isn’t social networking all about participation ?


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