me-post-itLast week, Bud Caddell posted a cool personal and family history startup idea on his blog “What Consumes Me“. Here’s Bud’s proposal:

At every demarcation of time, we look back. We sift through our memories for those bookmarks… for those vibrant moments, and we blur the rest into our periphery.

Now with so much of our social interaction tied to digital means – why aren’t we collecting our actions for posterity in a more accessible form? Why can’t I look back ten years and see the sites I visited, friends I accepted, content I created, and content I shared? Why can’t I look back to see the seeds of a new friendship or the first movements within a new social networking site?

I think this is BRILLIANT and I wish I had thought of it first! Why does this excite me? I’ll try to explain.

Archiving Social Media Preserves Status AND Relationships

For one thing, I find that I use Twitter and Facebook very much as our ancestors used a line-a-day diary to record seemingly trivial things such as who they visited, what the weather was like, what they did at work or what they made for dinner. So preserving my tweets and status updates for posterity performs the same function passively — without any intervention on my part. But because social media is about connections rather than just about status, preserving my social media content will also preserve the story arc of my relationships. This is huge!

When we’re successful in genealogy research today, we can construct basic timelines for our ancestors: where they lived when, the property they bought, the dates of key life events like birth, marriage, death, military service, employment. With great effort, we can piece together basic family relationships… but we can seldom see those relationships unfold in quasi-real-time.

If we are sharing our daily lives, thoughts and interactions with family and friends through tweets, blog posts, and “likes” on Facebook, then archiving that content will make those details available to our descendants much as a dusty journal would. But a particularly smart web application could do much more than that.

Curating My Social Media Artifacts

By tapping the power of context-sensitive tagging, our hypothetical website could categorize our social media participation and make it easy for future generations to mine our content for trends, relationships, ideas, disappointments, and epiphanies. All the things that we worry about social media doing while we’re alive — letting marketers target ads towards us based on our preferences and interests for instance — could be turned into something much more benign and beneficial after we’re gone.

Some Basic Specifications

Here’s a quick list of what I’d want this hypothetical web application to do for me:

  • Monitor the social media content I consume, including blogs I subscribe to, posts I bookmark or “favorite”, friends’ newsfeed items that I “like”, comments I accept on my own blog, people I follow on Twitter, etc.
  • Track the content I create and contribute, such as blog posts I write, tweets I submit, stuff I post on others’ walls, websites I link to…
  • Continually sift through my email and keep a running log of who I communicate with most and what topics I discuss with them.
  • Build tags, categories, “trending topics” and other high-level organizational infrastructure to facilitate future search and analysis tasks undertaken by my descendants (and by me, for that matter!)
  • Do all of this in a transparent yet unobtrusive manner that doesn’t require me to change the way I’m currently using social media tools and doesn’t bog down my computer or my browser.

A Few Caveats

Of course, I can already anticipate numerous objections to this entire concept:

  • In the wrong hands, this kind of information could and would be exploited for nefarious purposes
  • As Facebook and Twitter evolve or are replaced by newer, shinier online toys, our web app will need to constantly reinvent itself to keep up with the latest social media innovations
  • Given the difficulties we experience now getting our family members interested in our shared genealogy, we might go to all the effort of archiving our social media interactions only to find that none of our posterity cares!

Smarter people than me will have to tackle these legitimate concerns. I’m convinced, however, that there is real value in the service Bud proposes.

How Much Value?

Bud suggests he’d be willing to pay $99/year for such an application. I’d probably want an entry-level price point closer to  $50/year, with the premium version going for $99. How about you?

Care to Give it a Try?

I suspect several companies are already working on something like this (here’s one I know of.) But I doubt that anyone has much of a head start yet. The idea strikes me as an ideal one to propose in an application to either Techstars or YCombinator. If any of you reading this decide to do it, I’d love to help!

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One Response to “Genealogy Startup Idea: Preserve and Curate My Social Media for Future Generations”

  1. Genlighten Blog — Genealogy Documented » Blog Archive » Eternos: Preserving your Tweets, Facebook Photos, Gmail and RSS for Future Generations Says:

    [...] back, I posted about Bud Caddell’s idea for a Social Media Time Machine that would “Preserve and Curate My Social Media for Future Generations.” This weekend, I was followed on Twitter by a startup that looks like they’re trying [...]

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