Why Owning Our Own Data is Important

On Friday there was a good discussion on Branch created by Josh Miller titled “Owning Your Own Words – Is It Important“. The basic premise was to ask people if they’re concerned that we’re all free workers to generate content for web services. I don’t have a problem with this as I feel there is an understanding with regards to providing free content on a service if it provides value to you. But the conversation shifted to concerns regarding posting content to platforms that are controlled vs. online services. That’s a much trickier question with many different facets to consider.

Gina Trapani entered into the discussion stating that she prefers publishing her content on a platform that she has some ownership and control over. She also pointed out that all forms of publishing can have meaning. Even a tweet. She then stated her concern about publishing to services because they often shut down, get acquired, or change course. In many of these cases you have a short window to get your data, if at all.

MG Siegler and Anil Dash chimed in echoing Gina’s “future-proofing” concerns. Anil goes further by saying that he feels his blog will be among his most important work and cares deeply about his Son (and presumably future generations) having access to it. He also brings up a point regarding how we are losing “a great deal of cultural documentation” because of a bias towards disposability. I find this to be not only the mindset of the services hosting this content, but also many people may not have the means to export or even care about the preservation of their own content. That’s why a service like Archive.org is such a crucial part of preserving the web.

Paul Ford goes beyond content publishing to web services and discusses local data and even gestures that would presumably track all behaviors and the issues of presenting all of that data in a coherent method in today’s disjointed internet. Mathew Ingram goes on to re-iterate points made by Gina and MG with regards to being paid to create content and being at the mercy of the publisher who owns it with regards to preservation affecting him as well.

And at this point I wanted to enter this great conversation but was not able to as I’m currently not a member of the Branch beta. So I decided to provide this summary for you (but you can go read the full conversation) and below was the comment I had composed in the hopes that I would be able to join. But I wasn’t, and now my words are here, and I fully own them and can preserve them forever 🙂

There are several facets to “owning our own words” made evident in this discussion. I recently wrote a post outlining the many issues related to our ability to preserve, prepare, and produce a way for future generations to be able to view the content we create over our lifetimes as a digital legacy. The information have access to for understanding the lives of our past ancestors are mostly comprised of photographs, written documents, and stories. I like to think that we can create much richer narratives of our lives that future generations could use to know so much more than past generations have been able to provide. We are so early in this phase of digital content creation that I don’t think much thought has been put towards legacy and how future generations will consume it. A huge aspect of preservation is tied back to “owning our words” or to be more specific “owning our data”.

There is forethought and steps that need to be taken when considering preserving our digital data. Those steps include making sure that the data you create can be stored in a place where you own it. There are some apps such as Gina’s Thinkup, Backupify, The Locker Project, and others that take one step towards the preservation process by giving us access to the data we create on social services and elsewhere. But currently the steps and process to do this are difficult even for the tech savvy. We will need to find ways to both educate people on the importance of preserving our digital data as well as create ways so that it can be easily viewable by future generations. I feel that the most important reason why we need to “own our own words” is to be prepared for this.

2 thoughts on “Why Owning Our Own Data is Important”

  1. That’s another reason not to participate in silos. They control who can participate.

    I’m surprised any of those people were willing to have that discussion in an invite-only place.

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