Avoiding Extinction in a Digital Dark Age

August 11, 2010 · Posted in Conference, Event · Comment 

avoiding extinctionI’m excited that my panel submission has been accepted to the voting stage of the SXSW Interactive festival, happening March 11 – 15, 2011 in Austin, Texas. More than 2,400 proposals have been submitted for consideration. Please vote for my session from August 9 to 27 to help it through to the next round of consideration. And, if you feel so inclined, please leave a comment on my session’s Panel Picker page, as this may encourage others unfamiliar with me or my work to vote for my proposal.

Avoiding Extinction in a Digital Dark Age evolved through speaking sessions that I’ve been doing over that the last year. It is particularly relevant to content creators and people who put so much of their work online. (Here’s Wikipedia about the possibility of a digital dark age.)

Avoiding Extinction in a Digital Dark Age

Here’s the session description:

Many think that the web is forever and our personal stories, work and files will live on stored on hard drives and online. Driven by low cost storage, easy distribution and social networks we’ve put our lives online at an amazing pace and converted analog to digital. But, are we inadvertently creating a digital dark age?

In the last 15-years, online photo and video sites, blogs, email and hard drives full of files have replaced the previous generation’s analog heirlooms.

Looking at an old family album from 1910, you’ll be able to view the photos today. Will your descendants be able to see your digital pictures 100 years from now?

The web is actually a fragile place where your digital life’s work and can disappear without warning. Stored data can suffer from digital obsolescence and become unusable.

To prevent the loss of historically significant records and collections, library and archival organizations have been working on digital preservation issues for years.

You may not be a person destined for the history books, but, to your family, friends, colleagues and descendants, your stories and work are just as important, and possibly even more relevant.

This session will look at what each of us can do today to preserve and pass on our digital legacy, how to determine what to save, what steps have happened at the institutional level and determine how they can be adapted for individuals.

If you are a prolific digital creator, this is a must attend session.

Five Questions Answered

  1. Why won’t my digital content be safe forever on the Internet?
  2. Isn’t the Internet Archive keeping everything?
  3. Why is the archive of files on my hard drive/CD/DVDs at risk?
  4. My data is insignificant. Why would anyone care about it in the future?
  5. How do I ensure that my important digital files survive me?

SXSW Voting

panel_pie_2011_0Here’s how the voting works:

  • 30% Community Voting (that’s YOU); 30% SXSW Staff Picks; 40% SXSW Advisory Board Picks
  • Voting runs from August 9 to 27, 2010
  • First 200 sessions are announced September 20, with more following on November 8

To vote:

  • Before Friday, August 27, 2010 go to PanelPicker.sxsw.com a
  • click “Sign In” at the top right of the page
  • If you have never registered on SXSW.com before, click “create a new account” and fill out the simple form
  • Once you are logged into the PanelPicker, you can click here to get to my session, or navigate alphabetically to Avoiding Extinction in a Digital Age to vote.

Thank you for your support. See you at SXSW Interactive 2011!

Twitter Posts Deceased Policy

August 9, 2010 · Posted in Policies · 6 Comments 

deceased policyTwitter has released a deceased policy that will hopefully be a step toward removing dead users from their recommendation engine. From all indications the social network has not yet announced the policy which will help family and friends of loved ones to retrieve an archive of their tweets or remove the account.

Twitter’s Deceased Policy

If we are notified that a Twitter user has passed away, we can remove their account or assist family members in saving a backup of their public Tweets.
Please contact us with the following information:

  1. Your full name, contact information (including email address), and your relationship to the deceased user.
  2. The username of the Twitter account, or a link to the profile page of the Twitter account.
  3. A link to a public obituary or news article.

You can contact us at privacy@twitter.com, or by mail or fax:
Twitter Inc.,
c/o: Trust & Safety

Folsom Street, Suite 600
San Francisco, CA 94107
Fax: 415-222-9958

We will respond by email with any additional information we might need.

Please note that we cannot allow access to the account or disclose other non-public information regarding the account.

Was it  something I said?

A mere 72-hours ago I exchanged tweets with Doug Bowman, @stop, Twitter’s Creative Dirctor, about my post Twitter Recommends Dead Friends. He advised me that he would pass along the post to the support team overseeing the topic.

I don’t know if it was that post that finally made them take action on developing a policy or if it was already in the works and was sped along by the many complaints from their users about seeing dead friends recommended.

However this new policy came to be, I’m glad that Twitter now has something in place that will help family or friends of users who have passed away to archive the tweets or remove their accounts.

Twitter Recommends Dead Friends

August 5, 2010 · Posted in Policies · 1 Comment 

lilyhillOn July 30th, Twitter announced that it was releasing a feature to recommend friends to follow right on the sidebar of the site when you log into Twitter.com. It was only a matter of time before their Who to Follow algorithm turned up someone who had passed away.

My friend Dean Whitbread, @dfrw, alerted me this morning that upon logging in and seeing this feature for the very first time, he was disturbed to see his friend Ro, @lilyhill,  recommended as someone to follow. She had died unexpectedly of a stroke in May 2009. Two days later, Ro’s daughter used her mom’s cell phone to text a last message to the account to notify @lilyhill’s friends of her passing.

Facebook does it too

This same problem has been on Facebook since they rolled out their Suggested Friends feature in March 2008. And automated friend recommendations without the context of whether the person is alive or dead is the source of one of the most frequent complaints that I hear about Facebook.

However, in Facebook, users have the ability to report a user deceased and memorialize their account. A memorialized account removes some personal information, prevents new friend requests and still allows existing friends to post messages to the deceased’s Wall. It also removes the user’s account from the “Suggested Friends” algorithm so that your dearly departed does not appear there.

Twitter’s deceased policy

Twitter has no such ability to deal with the deceased’s account. In fact, Twitter has no policy regarding the death of a user at all. The closest they have is an inactive accounts policy which states “Accounts may be removed from the site due to prolonged inactivity,”  which they consider to be six-months. The policy then goes on to say they’re working on a way to release these accounts in bulk, but that they have no time line for when this might happen.

The account of the first person I knew on Twitter to pass away, @mochant, in December of 2007, is still there, well past the six-months to be considered an inactive account on Twitter.

The human side of the equation

Speaking to Dean Whitbread this morning about his friend @lilyhill,  he remarked “we felt like family.” After her death in May 2009, he wrote blog post about Ro as a way to acknowledge his grief and pay tribute to his friend whom he’d known online for 18- months.

A comment on that post left by @Otir, another of Ro’s online friends, talked about how she was grieving online.

“I am still feeling bereaved, probably because unlike if we were close blood family, I haven’t been actually able to pay my respects and attend her funeral or say goodbye in a proper way, I guess writing a tribute for a friend we met online is the proper way to do it.

I miss Ro a lot. She had become part of my daily life because we had often the same twitting hours and moments. Her absence is felt by this online silence that captures the exact essence of what death can be: silence.”

When we chatted this morning about seeing Ro in the Who to Follow box, Dean expressed how seeing her avatar there reminded him of the grief and loss he felt, and made him miss @lilyhill all over again. He summed up his feelings about the impact online friendships in his memorial blog post 15-months ago:

“It’s not just the convenience of messaging, adding a follower, the ubiquity of the internet – it is the meeting of minds, the touching of souls, the shared sensibilities, the humour, the wisdom, the kindness and the love. Don’t believe it when they tell you that internet friendships are not real.”

Sadly, online social networks using algorithms to build connections between users fail to take into consideration the real human emotion of what that means to people when those connections are lost.

Update #1: I was reminded that LinkedIn also has this practice of recommending people who have passed away.

Update #2: (via @SuzanneLong) Matt Haughey, (@mathowie) lamented, “Not you too Twitter? Facebook did this on every login. Developers: add status field of “deceased” in your apps.”

It drew this response from Doug Bowman (@stop), Twitter’s Creative Director, “@mathowie Sorry, Matt. We know this is an issue. We’re looking at solutions that preserve the profile yet keeps the user out of suggestions.”

Doug Bowman, himself, has had a run in with this issue when he commented last December, “LinkedIn keeps suggesting I add a dear friend who died last year. We (social media) still fail to handle this gracefully.”

Update #3: Here are more cases of people being recommended deceased people to follow: @GeoShore @croyle @apogeum @BigToys

Update #4: After sending a tweet to @stop about the issue and a request to speak with someone at Twitter, I received a reply that he had passed this post on to the support team dealing with the topic. Inroads…

NBC Bay Area on Facebook Memorials

August 2, 2010 · Posted in Coverage · Comment 

Your Post-Mortem Facebook Life” ran on NBC Bay Area on July 28, 2010. It addresses growth of Facebook memorial accounts noting that a search for “R.I.P.” yields more than 23,000 pages. The news item highlights the stories of Eric Toscano, who died at 18 years-old. It goes on to say that the memorial on Facebook wasn’t possible a few years ago, but now just seems natural. The NBC piece also speaks to Julie Kramer, who wrote about Facebook Ghosts at the Huffington Post. Julie’s experience with Facebook memorials was around her friend, TV news reporter Darcy Pohland.

(This video may not be available outside of the US. If you have trouble viewing it, try using an IP masking service like HotspotShield and viewing the video directly from the NBC Bay Area site.)