How does the Internet see you? It’s an odd question, but some folks from the MIT Media Lab are thinking about just that. The project is Personas, a component of the Metropath(ologies) exhibit. From the project’s Web site:
It uses sophisticated natural language processing and the Internet to create a data portrait of one’s aggregated online identity. In short, Personas shows you how the Internet sees you.
Enter your name, and Personas scours the web for information and attempts to characterize the person – to fit them to a predetermined set of categories that an algorithmic process created from a massive corpus of data. The computational process is visualized with each stage of the analysis, finally resulting in the presentation of a seemingly authoritative personal profile.
A seemingly authoritative personal profile. In case you missed it, that’s exactly the point. Some time in the future someone may want to know about you. Provided that enough of your content survives, this is the type of profile they will find. Even the best data mining technologies lack the ability to distinguish the content of several people who share the same name. The profile is thus an aggregate profile of several different people.
This is a problem. If you’re to be remembered for you you are, then your identity can’t be confused with others. This example is a reminder that you can’t rely upon the cloud to handle the sorting. It takes planning and effort on your part and that of your survivors.
Programs like this may one day allow us to “get to know” people long past, but you hit the nail on the head. We need to be able to preserve the data and be able to distinguish you from all the other people.