By providing us with new ways to share what we’re doing right now, the real-time web also captures something we might not have created otherwise: a permanent record of the event. We’ve all been so distracted by The Now that we’ve hardly noticed the beautiful comet tails of personal history trailing in our wake. We’ve all become accidental archivists; our burgeoning digital archives open out of the future.
It’s appropriate that I’m discovering this excellent post in the wake of Yahoo’s decision to "sunset" Delicious (and that I found it through Delicious’s spiritual successor, Pinboard), because in a lot of ways it brings us full circle back to “Web 2.0’s” origins in what Delicious creator Joshua Schachter has called a “memory platform.”
This concept of social applications as memory platforms has been a bit of a career theme for me, and I think it has informed almost everything I’ve worked on in some way or another. Most obviously, longtime readers may recall that I once wrote a (long since “sunsetted”) Mac Delicious API client called Cocoalicious. But even later, two out of the three ideas I worked on sporadically during my indie days were very explicitly memory platforms, and it was no accident that I spent months of extra development time to make sure the third, Birdfeed, was one of the first iPhone Twitter clients to implement pervasive local database caching of tweets. One of the big upcoming Square features I’ve personally been working on could even be thought of as an extension of this obsession.
I completely agree that there are some powerful social memory experiences possible that aren’t yet appreciated by an industry (and public) preoccupied with “The Now.” The immediacy of services like Twitter, Foursquare, and Instagram is a powerful incentive for average people to fit journaling into their daily lives. But, as Matt Jones points out, in many ways “The Now” is the least interesting part of the spacetime light cone. Without deep access to archives, and compelling ways to navigate them, real time services are falling short of their true potential.