Social networking/Web 2.0 amnesia

I’d never really thought about longevity of email addresses, I’ve no idea how long I’ve had my yahoo.co.uk address, probably not 10-years but I have no idea. [Update: Yahoo think’s I’ve had my email since Oct. 1999]

When I was first at IBM UK they insisted on openness and transparency, and so we were encouraged to use our work Internet address by default. So – was name@vnet.ibm.com and then name@uk.ibm.com for most email from 1987. But then I got in a legal fight over an online triathlon forum I ran, and the companies lawyers wrote to IBM to complain as that was the only way they had to contact me. My boss at the time suggested it would be smart to separate my identities, I figure that was only about 2001. Since then I’ve fairly successfullly kept my online persona separate.

I don’t recall having an Internet email address before I joined IBM, but we’d had teletype and terminal systems where we could send messages between systems across the world, kinda like twitter but point to point mostly. My first memory of this was around 1978…

Transparency and declarative living have really been the default since then, the tools have got better overtime. I like the way things are coalescing around a few tools. Facebook is becoming a useful repository, being able to redirect via RSS your journal, tweets, pictures, friends, social contacts, travel plans via tripit etc.

Livejournal really hasn’t kept up and really serves little purpose these days except its original use, as a journal. Here it still stacks up better than many other blogging platforms as it still has private, friends, public entries.

However, I continue to be concerned that Facebook will eventually have a screw-up that will amount to mass amnesia, all sorts of content and contacts will be lost and irrecoverable. For that reason I still do 6-monthly backups of Livejournal to PDF’s via LJBook – that way my memories still have some collective memory, although I’m not sure what I’ll do with it. I’ve often thought about giving my lawyer passwords for key accounts etc. along with my will…

Have any others given this any thought ? Are there any Facebook backup or data extraction tools? What have you done about longterm password, or data storage? In 30-years time, possibly after you pass on, how will that picture get removed from Flicker ?

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About & Contact

I'm Mark Cathcart, formally a Senior Distinguished Engineer, in Dells Software Group; before that Director of Systems Engineering in the Enterprise Solutions Group at Dell. Prior to that, I was IBM Distinguished Engineer and member of the IBM Academy of Technology. I'm an information technology optimist.


I was a member of the Linux Foundation Core Infrastructure Initiative Steering committee. Read more about it here.

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