Proposed standards for the care and feeding of user generated content

THIS MORNING Contents Magazine launched the beginning of something both good and important: a set of guidelines that could lead to a safer world for user-created content.

Contents believes (and I agree) that products and services which make a business of our stuff—the photos, posts, and comments that we share on their platforms—need to treat our content like it matters. Not like junk that can be flushed the moment a product or service gets acquired or goes under.

On the web, popularity waxes and wanes; beloved services come and go. AOL was once mighty. MySpace was unstoppable. Nobody expected Geocities, Delicious, or Gowalla to just disappear, taking our stories, photos, and memories with them. But that’s what happens on the web. Tomorrow it could be Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Flickr. We can continue to blindly trust these companies with our family histories, and continue to mourn when they disappear, taking our data with them. Or we can demand something better.

Contents and its small team of advisors have devised three simple rules customer-content-driven services and apps should follow to respect and protect our content:

  • Treat our data like it matters. Keep it secure and protect our privacy, of course—but also maintain serious backups and respect our choice to delete any information we’ve contributed.
  • No upload without download. Build in export capabilities from day one.
  • If you close a system, support data rescue. Provide one financial quarter’s notice between announcing the shutdown and destroying any user-contributed content, public or private, and offer data export during this period. And beyond that three months? Make user-contributed content available for media-cost purchase for one year after shutdown.

You may see this as a pipe dream. Why should a big, successful company like Facebook listen to us? But citizen movements have accomplished plenty in the past, from bringing web standards to our web browsers, to peacefully overthrowing unpopular governments.

I’m on board with the new Contents guidelines and I hope you will be, too. If enough of us raise enough of a sustained fuss over a sufficient period, things will change.

More at Special Report #1: Data Protection — Contents Magazine.

3 thoughts on “Proposed standards for the care and feeding of user generated content

  1. What a great idea!
    Here’s a parallel notion I’ve been screaming about for (seems like) twenty years now: all email providers should provide forwarding service for (at least) one year after a subscriber discontinues service.
    When a user of AhOLe left for Earthstink in the late 90’s, AhOLe had no interest in forwarding mails addressed to their ex-subscriber. So messages sent to the old address either got bounced, or (more typically) lost in the ether.
    Forwarding mail to departing subscribers’ new addresses should be a legal requirement of all companies that provide email service.
    We should expect no less from our email providers than what we get from the US Post Office: one year of forwarding.

  2. it will be nice if companies do these things.

    but it might not prove to be “profitable”, so
    i sincerely doubt we can _depend_ on them.
    no matter what they might do or say today…

    so how about a set of _personal_priorities_?

    1. i will treat my own content/data like it matters.
    because if i don’t do that, why would anyone else?

    2. i won’t upload something without saving copies,
    including one located in my own _personal_ cloud.
    i will also archive any _other_ material that i value,
    such as photos of my loved ones, or zeldman’s blog.

    3. i will never leave my content/data vulnerable to
    a dependence on a company that might turn flakey,
    which pretty much means every company out there.


    p.s. i also support dave winer’s posts on this subject,
    which seems especially pertinent since my comments
    continue to disappear mysteriously from his threads. :+)

  3. This is not only brilliant, but as you said, the right thing to do from the start. If profitability is a question, harvesting a large user base with strong loyalty and/or users switching to a system that practices these standards could be priceless in the long run. Happy users = profitability.

    The “what happens if they go out of business” question comes up in client meetings for us all the time. Having systems in place that practice these new standards would serve everyone better.

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