Some information lingers longer than it should, longer than it is valuable. It becomes inaccurate, unreliable, outdated, and harmful – toxic. If web content has a very short lifespan (say a half life of 2 days – see Modelling Information Persistence on the Web by Daniel Gomes and Mario J. Silva) and we are concerned with removing harmful old information (e.g., The Right to be Forgotten), I suggest we are not managing this space properly. We are losing massive amounts of information everyday that may or may not be incredibly valuable in the future and holding on to pieces of toxic information, the loss of which is considered censorship.

What if we, as users, as contributors, as internet citizens, cared for this digital space as stewards for future information uses/users? The internet has many analogies – the one I find the most dangerous and the most optimistic is the library. The internet is dramatically different than it was ten years ago and it can and likely will be different ten years from now. As stewards of this decentralized, user-created space, we should also be librarians. As users, we have proven that we can enrich the space, but are we managing the space properly? Are we protecting its riches?

Principles of information stewardship exist in spaces like Wikipedia (see the discussion related to why the Star Wars Kid entry does not use the poor guy’s real name), but how many of us consider what ever happened to our old blog posts, flickr accounts, myspace pages? I am as guilty as anyone of information littering, dumping, polluting. To take the stewardship concept even further, some of this information is “biodegradable,” as in non-toxic, but that is dumb luck. I have been responsible with what I put into the space (a good first step) but have not been responsible about managing any of it – correcting inaccuracies, updating content, anonymizing news that is no longer news. This notion of information stewardship (and in turn, privacy stewardship) is underdeveloped to say the least – it’s 1am after all. Stewardship promoted by design is the natural next step (and hopefully the next post), but even less developed at this point.

The first step should be a long term timeline of web information lifecycles – how long is information persisting online and is it increasing or decreasing over the years? Only a few studies have been done on persistence and not over time periods relevant to regulation. Second, based on those findings, the characteristics of lingering harmful information sources should be identified. Regulation, if appropriate, should be tailored to these sources. Finally, standards/guidelines of information stewardship should be established and supported by design to encourage the librarian in all of us.

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