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What happens when Facebook follows MySpace?

The web is no place for happy memories

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Open ... and Shut While it may be true that the web has an infinitely long memory, I'm struggling to figure out where to store pictures and anecdotes from the lives of my children.

Given how quickly fashions change on the web - from MySpace to Facebook to Instagram to Twitter - it's hard to believe that anything, no matter how dominant it is today, will still be around in 20 years, much less two years. For those of us who want to collect memories in a somewhat central place, this is a problem.

And, no, Facebook isn't going to solve it for me.

I've written before that a "certain level of monopoly is a very good thing for the development of a market," as it enables developers to focus their efforts on a single target. I still believe this. But the problem with our online identities is not that we don't have monopolization of content repositories. It's that they don't last long enough.

At the very moment that some were arguing that MySpace was a natural monopoly, Facebook was sowing the seeds of its obsolescence. But even Facebook, with its 900 million users and tentacles into every aspect of the social web, is starting to show cracks.

I first noticed this with my own teenage neighbors, who are leaving Facebook in droves for the less parented, more free-wheeling Twitter. But it's not just teens: new reports are surfacing that Facebook's user base, and not merely growth, has actually declined by 1.1 per cent.

While that may not seem like much, it fits a much broader trend seen in the fast-paced Internet industry: services are either quickly acquired or quickly lose relevance, or both. Heck, even Google+ is apparently scoring higher with users in terms of satisfaction than Facebook these days. (Remember Google+?)

The fact that Instagram could jump from 30 million to 50 million users in just one month (April 2012), up dramatically from the 15 million users with which it started 2012, is as much a sign of the weakness as strength. Strength, because the mobile product clearly served a need for a lot of users. But weakness, because it also shows just how easy it is to switch from rival products.

As Google's Eric Schmidt would say, competition is just a click away. And we're clicking like crazy.

Which, again, brings me back to the digital memorabilia for my family. Over the last two years I've been a heavy Facebook user, storing family pictures, stories, and more. Lately, however, I've been splitting my time between Instagram and Foursquare, but continue to connect these services to Facebook so that a singular paper trail is maintained.

However, I have zero confidence that Facebook is going to be around 30 years from now, much less 10, and so I'm starting to worry that all of my digital memories are going to be locked into a dead-end. Yes, I know I can export my data, but that's not really the point. I don't want it sitting in some virtual locker, like The Locker Project or even a "personal cloud" service like Jolicloud.

I don't want just my data, but also its presentation. And I don't want to bet on any vendor-led service to be around. The market changes too fast for me to believe any particular vendor is going to last.

I guess what I want is a standard, something boring and... permanent. As has been pointed out to me, OpenID initially aspired to solve this problem, but it has mostly succeeded as an authentication protocol and failed as a permanent "DNS" for one's personal data.

Which leaves me with blogs and email. Maybe such dull, 90's-style technologies are what we need to keep our digital memories in a semi-permanent, aggregated state. Time will tell, but I still would pay for a service now that helped me to keep track of everything and had some assurance of outliving me.

Any thoughts as to the best way to achieve this? ®

Matt Asay is senior vice president of business development at Nodeable, offering systems management for managing and analysing cloud-based data. He was formerly SVP of biz dev at HTML5 start-up Strobe and chief operating officer of Ubuntu commercial operation Canonical. With more than a decade spent in open source, Asay served as Alfresco's general manager for the Americas and vice president of business development, and he helped put Novell on its open source track. Asay is an emeritus board member of the Open Source Initiative (OSI). His column, Open...and Shut, appears three times a week on The Register.

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