The public beta for ThinkUp 1.0 came out this week. The service, shepherdedby Gina Trapani, lets users collect, store, search and analyze the reams of personal data they put on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook. In that way its a lot like Singly, the open source data locker being developed out West. But Anil Dash had some strong words about what this kind of service means for web users. It’s not just a convenient way to grab all your data. It’s taking a stand against those who use your data for financial gain. Mr. Dash wrote on his blog:
- Picture everything you’ve ever written on Twitter
- Now add in every photo or status update you’ve ever posted on Facebook
- Add to that every message you’ve ever sent on Google+
- And then include every response you’ve ever gotten from anyone to any of those messages
- Now understand: The companies behind these networks can, and someday will, destroy all of those moments. Delete them from the record. Forever. With no advance notice. I want you to understand, and really truly believe that. Read the terms of service yourself if you don’t think they can do that.
This is a more strident take on Fred Wilson’s classic refrain, “Don’t be Twitter’s bitch, don’t be Google’s bitch, be your own bitch.”
Unfortunately most people are lazy and fairly illiterate when it comes to how their personal data lives on the internet. As Mr. Dash notes, “If you have a presence on Twitter, Facebook or Google+ and know how to run a PHP/MySQL app on a web server (or on EC2), you should install it and get it started now.” That eliminates most casual web users right off the top.
Look, it’s not that Mr. Dash doesn’t trust these sites or thinks they are up to some particularly nefarious end. It’s just that he takes a historical view. “Why would I ascribe such awful behavior to the nice people who run these social networks? Because history shows us that it happens. Over and over and over. The clips uploaded to Google Videos, the sites published to Geocities, the entire relationships that began and ended on Friendster: They’re all gone.”
To be fair, the noble folks from the Archive Team did manage to save most of Geocities, which now lives as a giant zip file on hundreds of torrent sites. And Friendster gave users fair warning they should grab their photos and those amazing testimonials people had written about them before they turned the whole thing into a casual gaming site for South East Asians. Betabeat even made a slideshow of them!
As social networks become increasingly intertwined with out lives, they are coming to store more than just chatty ephemera. Fatherhood has given Mr. Dash some additional perspective. “In ThinkUp, I can find the message where I announced my son’s birth. On Twitter or Facebook, I can’t.”