The New Bereavements
In a Twitter chat with Josie Fraser yesterday, she said that the URL shortening service u.nu has closed down and joked that she wasn't sure of the correct etiquette for the passing of such a thing:
u.nu url shortening service discontinued after constant spammer abuse http://u.nu/unu-discontinued so long, & thanks fr all the links.
I have been pondering for a while that we face a new set of bereavements. We are probably going to face these more, so for example, how do you react when your favourite service disappears? Imagine, say, Slideshare disappeared tomorrow. How would I feel? Anger that I have lost data, annoyance that old links won't work, upset that the good people there are out of jobs, saddened that such a thing didn't survive?
Another example I've encountered over the past year is when someone suddenly quits Twitter (or stops blogging or whatever). As these are people I am unlikely to ever meet face to face they are effectively lost gone. In real life we might mourn the passing of a friendship, so how do we react online? Should one shrug, or hold a candlelit vigil?
I expect we'll face more of these new forms of small-scale loss. There will be online therapists no doubt to help us cope.
PS – if there isn't one already, then someone should start a band called The New Bereavements.
Re: “Anger that I have lost data, annoyance that old links won’t work, upset that the good people there are out of jobs, saddened that such a thing didn’t survive?”
Adopting a somewhat selfish attitude (i.e. ignoring number 3 in your list above) it seems to me that the primary problem here is around links not working. I would not expect to lose data when a service goes – or not the primary content at least – because I wouldn’t make that my primary copy. (A potential case of ‘famous last words’ if ever I saw one!)
Links are important because they form the basis of any social capital that builds up around content – it is the shared use of the same URL that brings people together. Links are also the basis for how we promote ourselves (via our content and other people’s content) on the network.
We are what we link.
URL shortening services provide a valuable service but they also carry some risk – the risk that our links become a little more diffused across the network than they otherwise would. I don’t think it’s a major risk because most capital sticks with the full URLs once the shortener has got out of the way.
The disappearance of something like Slideshare would be more problematic because the social and promotional capital that has built up around it would have to be re-built.
That said… all of this stuff is pretty transitory these days. Perhaps these services dying forms the same (useful) digital function as being forced to move physical desk in the office every so often. You throw 90% of stuff away and get on with it.
Is it a bit like your hard disk going down? Or losing your bookmarks because of some malfunction? Or (in the case of the disappearing blogger) it is analogous to a colleague retiring.
In other words, we either have contingency plans on place to cope, or we just make do and work around the vacuum.
Richard M. Davis
I expect this is just another little evolutionary dead-end for the Web, that we will back out of – though not before many people have been burned. Shortened URLs may be, well, short, but they are definitely not cool (see: http://www.w3.org/Provider/Style/URI.html – or, if you prefer, http://tinyurl.com/3xl or http://is.gd/eXt0j or http://bit.ly/iqpFT)
@Andy – yes it’s transitory by nature. I wasn’t really bereft that u.nu had gone. I would be more so if Slideshare disappeared, because although I know I should, I haven’t backed up elsewhere (except the original powerpoints). The point about data might be that you’d lose the record of who followed you, how many views, etc, which, with my digital scholarship hat on, might be important data for demonstrating your influence in a sphere.
@Frank – yes, it’s not completely new. But I think the way we are distributed now both in terms of our resources and our social network is a bit different. Someone retiring you may keep in contact with, but if someone goes from your social network they can be gone for good.
@Richard – the link shortening service didn’t really cause me upset because I can find another and i only use it for transitory stuff like tweets, but it did make me think about the other types of loss we will suffer.
I don’t see tweets as “transitory” at all. I think their full value is sometimes yet to be seen. There is potential value in accumulated tweets too – which in the future may become more and more apparent. Imagine the myriad ways you’ll be able to query them. I want to see trends over time as well as realtime trending topics.
And hey, sometimes we just need to find our old tweets for various reasons.
Twitter keeps all tweets but frustratingly doesn’t offer them via search at the moment. In time I hope they improve the search to go back further than a few days.
For me these are just some reasons why the loss of a URL shortening service is catastrophic.
Organising your office desk is an deliberate and desirable action against entropy. I think a service going down is unfortunately the exact opposite!
I think we need to set up a support group to deal with this loss – Depressed Users of Defunct Services, or DUDS for short. We can start of each meeting “My name is Bob, and I’m a DUD.”