Deleting thousands of my own tweets

I’ve been having a lot of conversations about the difference between relevance and usefulness in terms of what the world will leave behind on the web for future generations to parse through. I thought I’d take a shot at deleting some of many tweets I’ve produced since joining Twitter, particularly because tweets no longer feels explainable, a very low standard to meet as far as relevance and usefulness go.

So I’m celebrating my 11th year on Twitter by getting rid of a small part of the record of inexplicable, personal expression. And by a “small part” I mean about 40,000 tweets. In the spirit of the #openweb, I wanted to share a couple of preliminary conclusions while going through this process that may be relevant for you, too.

  1. Everything a person creates and puts on social media should have some value to that person alone, not just on the day they share it but in the future.
  2. Everyone should have complete control over what happens with that thing they create (a tweet, a video, an email, you name it).
  3. I read a lot of my own tweets today, and I still don’t understand why anyone follows me.

The first law of the web: nothing stays the same.

Twitter is increasingly no longer realtime, impermanent, or short. Historically, Twitter described its platform as one where little time is required (it is a “live” experience that prioritizes brevity). At the same time, tweets are also incredibly difficult or impossible to modify in any manner. This is an existential contradiction embedded in the product that scores of admired technologists, experts, technology historians and reporters have struggled to make sense of. It’s not the contradiction that’s bothering me, though –– it’s the ticking time bomb of relevancy it implies not just for Twitter, but for the web itself.

What do you think about using a service that is not relevant to you in the future? Would you want that time back? I never used to think about this as seriously as I do today. Now broaden the general question to consider what else doesn’t provide the value it has in the past (and what provides more).

Assuming you can immediately, and in full honesty, correctly define the value of your social media posts today, where do you land on the larger issue of future relevance? Do you even care? I admit, I didn’t care myself for a few years. I wasn’t interested in the amount of time I spent until, well, I wanted more time to think about how I spend my time.

So how would you approach answering these questions? And are these even the right questions to ask?

  • How do we gauge relevance and usefulness over time if platforms are always changing how relevance and usefulness works?
  • If we could easily delete everything, at any time, how would one assess the commercial value of digital endeavors or investments?
  • What laws and business practices prevent people from attaining full control over their intellectual property on the web?
  • What are digital products and services today that do not depend, as much as they can be, on contextual relevance?
  • If something isn’t “relevant”, does it exist (the “if a tree falls in the woods” approach)?
  • Is society capable of digitally archiving itself?

Adding to the difficulty in assessing value on the web, generally, is that fact that everyone uses it differently (that’s a feature, not a bug!). It’s incredibly hard to say what has changed on the web precisely because “we” haven’t yet defined who is keeping track of what. These are the issues I’m exploring now.

As for the matter of relevance, that thread has been archived, for now.

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