Constant Documentation

Category: Technology

Published: 04/14/2011 03:05 a.m.

Documenting things used to be expensive. Camcorders and cameras were heavy and costly. It was hard to document things because the tools to do so were too difficult to use often.

Now most people have a phone that has a camera and sometimes a video recorder. Because of this, you now see 1 of 10 people at a concert with a camera or their phone held up for the entire concert. Why? Who are the showing this footage? Do we need a hundred copies of a concert from different aspects shot from crappy handheld tools that most users are not very adept at using?

This constant documentation doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Are we documenting everything to share with friends? Are we wanting to share with strangers? Are we doing this to be able to look back on our own experiences? I think it is a combination of some of these things, but in the long run it is wasteful. We are trading in the current experience to acquire a more limited experience that can be relived. Is it better to watch a crappy video of a concert 5 times than to really enjoy it once? Is it better to have 200 views on YouTube of said video?

People vote with their actions and it seems like an increasing number choose to document and not experience. I don't understand this choice.

There is a new product called the Looxcie that is a wearable camera that records all day long. To capture something, you hit a button, and the device saves down the last 30 seconds of what was recorded. I love this idea, because it allows you to do things and if something extraordinary really does happen, you can capture it.

But, I don't want this new tech toy. I don't think we need to document everything, especially in the current available mediums.

Content Longevity

Do you really think your videos on YouTube will last 20 years? 10 years? I don't think so. Long ago there was a technology called video cassettes. You could record to these tapes and then watch the video back on a VCR (or VCP). But, the quality degrades over time and now it is difficult to find a playback device. This physical technology had a hard time lasting 20 years. Hard drives are moving to flash drives. CDs moved to DVDs and now are moving to Blu Ray discs. The physical meeting is changing quickly, and more and more is moving to digital. So how fast will digital be changing?

The cloud did not exist a few years ago. Now it is the default storage platform for big pieces of data. Fickr, a photo company, is really a storage company. And Facebook is even more of a storage company since they process more photos in 2 hours than Flickr gets in a day. But, will these companies be around in 5 years? 10 years? A lifetime? I'm not convinced.

All This Stuff

Why do we need all this stuff? Every new item takes away value from every item that already exists. At some point, the value of all this documentation becomes it's size, not necessarily any individual piece of content. I think that is a bad thing. It also takes more effort and time to manage the collection of life documentation. Though the costs of storage are low, the price of management is still fairly high, and starts to past the cost of storage quickly.

And what about content migration? It's a pain to move to a new CMS or a new hosting solution or to a new backend system. I know, I've done it. This cost generally increases with the size of a collection. Big companies have budgets to decide on technology moves like this and spend lots of money to implement new solutions (sometimes with the help of consultants). That's fine for them because they can leverage their gains to increase profits. But how can I as a consumer benefit from content migration? It feels like all cost and is mostly only done at the last minute or when the costs to outsource it have come down.

There are some digital tools that are shaping this, like XML or JSON. But to convert CDs to mp3s or DVDs to digital video files is still costly.

Value of Content

How much are your home videos worth? Are they all worth the same? What about your blog posts? How much are you willing to keep around and migrate every time there is a platform change?

Compare the value of these digital assets to a book. A real, hardback, physical book. A book only costs shelf space. When you move, a book costs weight that you must move or pay to have carried and packed. Unless you are fairly wealthy, you probably have a very limited personal library. This is because the cost of acquiring and maintaining the content of these books can get high as your library grows.

The advent of the Internet allows us access to a wealth of knowledge larger than any personal library. Companies like Google make this content accessible quickly and easily. However, webpages, like other forms of content, also seem to expire. Geocities shut down millions of sites, as have others.

It seems that the average lifespan for many tech companies is much shorter than the life of physical goods companies.

A book can last a hundreds years pretty easily. Can a website? A YouTube video, or a Flickr photo, or a blog post or any digital content? We don't know yet, and I have my doubts.