Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Go Probe Yourself!

Is anyone ever going to view the average dead person's content? If not, then what's the point of saving it? These questions strike at the very heart of digital immortality, which many feel is reserved for the famous or extra-ordinary. I think that a good part of the answer lies in the way we swap stories with our friends and relatives. Much has been written on the power of storytelling and its deep-rooted history (dating back thousands of years) in connecting us with current and past generations. I believe that most of us, even the non-story-tellers, have some good human interest stories just waiting to be coaxed out; and chances are that at least one of your family relations down the line will want to read about it. A good digital immortality service, then, should effectively capture person-defining stories and help future generations to discover them.

There are (at least) a couple of big problems to solve here. First, most people do not create content on the Internet. It has been observed that for every 1 person that publishes digital content, there are roughly 100 people that only read content, and about 10 people that will post comments. Nobody will hear your stories if you don’t tell them. Second, attention is the scarcest resource. With every passing moment, there is an over-whelming amount of content published to the Internet. Imagine how much worse it would be if everybody did it! Nobody will listen to your stories if they are not receptive to them (or cannot find them when they want to).

I propose that the solutions to both problems is the question. Questioning is a powerful tool used to draw out information in education (testing), journalism (interviews), law (cross-examination), philosophy (Socratic method), science (inquiry), sociology (surveys) … the list goes on and on. In each case, a question is specially formulated to elicit a particular type of information. It stands to reason that the same principle would apply to drawing out a person’s anecdotes, insights, and life-lessons. Why would you tell a story unless somebody asked a relevant question? Conversely, you may know someone who tells stories at inappropriate times—does this deserve your attention?

iNetSelf is designed around asking probing questions (“probes”) designed to draw out stories from seemingly average people AND matching the answers with the people most receptive to them. It looks to the wisdom of crowds to come up with the probes that lead to the most sought-after stories, to give each of us the best chance of a digital survival. If you have an idea for a great probe, then please head over to iNetSelf and submit it. The digital life you save may be your own.

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