Sunday, January 8, 2012

Networking into the Past

In the heyday of social media, one can hardly click in a browser without “+1”, “share on Facebook”, and “tweet this” buttons bulging from the page. However, anything that achieves internet popularity is subject to the deplorably transient attention spans of the clicking masses. In other words, the Internet is a creature of the present. The “it” topic of the week is just that, the topic for a week, and any mentions of it later lead to nothing but cries of “repost!” and downvotes on Reddit.

But Timehop’s launch this week (mentioned in the Techcrunch article here ) and Facebook’s controversial Timeline feature together may be indicating a shift in the paradigm of internet content. People may be tired of a world in which all we do is charge forward. Sometimes we want to fondly reminisce about things in the past, and we want to do so in such a way that is socially acceptable. At the moment, commenting on a friend’s pictures from three months ago is indicative of “Facebook stalking,” but even simple changes to the UI may cause peers to be a bit more appreciative of their friends’ wanting to relive memories, and maybe even inspire them to join in. The “history writing” feature mentioned in the article is especially conducive to large discussions of past events. It invites peers to join in on the journey down memory lane instead of making the reminiscing user fly solo.

Most interestingly, Timehop and other related services could possibly introduce a new dimension to social networking. The mentioned “social media nostalgia” makes every social media user’s network so much larger. Now people can be linked to each other not just by friendships, but also by past locations and past interests, courtesy of access to their historical social content. In particular, Timehop brings up content including Facebook status updates, photos, and Twitter posts from up to a year in the past. Yes, this content always existed, but allowing to user to bring it up themselves lessens the shock from how much past personal information is stored by internet companies and makes it a little more acceptable for that information to be used by said companies in order to find connections.

Foursquare, a large content source for the precursor of Timehop, is a location tracking utility, so a new connection formed by a just-accepted friend request can be further strengthened by the link that the two both played at the same beach ultimate Frisbee tournament two months ago. The graph of social connections is becoming multi-colored; edges can be drawn for a multitude of reasons. Common past interests, common past event attendance, and common past Twittered trends are all fair game.

As the internet expands the characteristics over which it forges connections between people, more and more people will become familiar with the concept, if not the name, of “six degrees of separation,” and we will all realize that links can be found between even the most unlikely pairs of social media users.

Who knows? If we add enough colors to our graph of Internet social connections, five degrees may become the new six degrees.


  1. Interesting post. I sort of wonder whether it's beneficial for FB to make it easier to see "the past". At least initially, I think one thing that helped overcome people's innate privacy worries about posting on FB was that everything was focused on the present. And, so, people didn't feel the embarrassment that sometimes comes when looking back. It may be that exposing the past limits people's engagement in the present?

    1. Similar to Twitter's 140 char restriction, Timehop only pulls up content from exactly one year ago (according to the linked article), so I guess that keeps the drift into the past in check. Though, I'm not sure if people will approve that this is the right way to do it. The privacy concern you mention is interesting, I wonder if there is a way to model such privacy issues due to revisiting the past and come up with a mechanism that takes it into account.