The artifacts of social interaction

In the physical world, interactions between people are remembered. Sometimes the interaction leaves behind physical artifacts. Letters are frequently treasured objects – remembrances of love, loss, and revolution. Photos of people long gone often become family heirlooms.

That fact that interactions help form our self identity and our bonds to other people reminds us that people are social creatures. So it shouldn’t surprise us that online social media is consuming the Web. An online analogy of an offline biological imperative seems like a natural extension for humanity.

All this online social interaction leaves behind artifacts, too. Tweets, Facebook messages, photos, videos and comment streams of all sorts.

So do these interactions belong to their creators or all the participants? If you are in your friend’s photo, is it also part of your identity? I would venture to say “yes”. But this affirmation raises some serious questions about ownership and our ideas of assets.

If virtual assets are going to be archived and permanently associated with a person, what assets should go into storage? Every picture that you take? Every picture that you are tagged in? Every picture that you talk about with our friends?

Is it possible that the interaction is the asset and that all the participants are the owners?

It seems to me that the old model of creator and creation – owner and asset may become outmoded. I see a new model of interaction and participant. But it isn’t that easy. User agreements form the only legal framework available, and they often state that service is the owner of the interaction.

Would a service that captures and archives the interaction make sense? Are the interactions out of context valuable?

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2 Responses to The artifacts of social interaction

  1. Paul August 17, 2009 at 3:21 pm #

    I had an ex g/f who maintained she had veto power of ANY photo which included her face. This was long before digital photos and FB. She felt every person owned the copyright to their own face. While the ownership of the photo could be called into question, the Usage Rights belonged to every face in the picture. This seemed right to me. I own land, but there is a legal Right of Way which allows the farmer who’s land can only be accessed thru mine to use it whether I like it or not. I am the sole owner, but have shared Usage Rights. I expect copyright laws to someday reflect something like this.

  2. John Romano August 20, 2009 at 11:09 am #

    I wish Facebook would take this to heart. All their talk of ownership leaves people feeling a bit used.

    But Terms of Service silently govern many of our interactions. What we need is a “Bill of Digital Rights” to help individuals own the interactions they are a part of.

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