Digital nostalgia: Do tweets age like fine wine?

@CNNMoneyTech January 13, 2012: 5:08 AM ET
Timehop is a startup that shows you what you were doing on Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and other social media sites a year ago.

Timehop is a startup that shows you what you were doing on Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and other social media sites a year ago.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- An email landed in my inbox the other day from a startup called Timehop. In that email, there were pieces of my online life posted a year ago that day.

"Feeling inspired," I had tweeted January 6 , 2010. And then there was a picture I had posted of my best friend sitting at our favorite local restaurant in the East Village, the one that months later closed its doors after 20 years.

The next day, I received an email documenting a tweet I'd sent to another good friend leaving CNN. "We're losing a good one," I tweeted him in farewell. Later that day, I posted a picture of my favorite building lit by afternoon sunlight in what has now become my old neighborhood.

Nostalgic? Just a bit.

That's why Timehop is betting our social media history will become more important in a world where much of our lives are documented online.

Sign up and connect your Twitter, Foursquare, Facebook, and Instagram account and every morning a piece of your social media history will land in your inbox showing what you tweeted a year ago on that date, the pictures you posted, and the places you were.

"We're producing enough content in digital form that we have a digital past," Timehop co-founder Jonathan Wegener said. "You're following your own life story, which is pretty interesting." Wegener added that Timehop has tens of thousands of subscribers.

The interest in eventually looking back online is part of the reason Facebook overhauled its interface to create Timeline, a new version of the site that would also serve as a digital scrapbook and essentially, a story of our lives.

Until Facebook launched Timeline, it was tough to view your past actions on the service.

"We knew people wanted to dig back in," Meredith Chin, manager of product communications at Facebook said. "We wanted people to be able to see a return on investment they put in over the years and also look back and reflect things that were important to them."

Companies like Foursquare and Twitter don't allow users an easy way of looking back at old tweets and check-ins, and Timehop hopes to position itself as the place to do that.

"Everyone's focused on real time and there's an incredibly powerful product to be built on the past," Wegener said. "That's the product we're building."

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Timehop was a spin off of 4SquareAnd7YearsAgo, which was originally built out of a Foursquare hackathon in February of last year. That service simply sent you reminders of your Foursquare check-ins in the past.

Wegener was a part of the latest Techstars class, an influential incubator program in New York that matches entrepreneurs with mentors. He was working on another startup called FriendsList, which was meant to take on Craigslist.

Wegener said Timehop was always a side startup but people just latched on to it. So he stopped working on FriendsList and is now working on Timehop full time with two other coworkers. He wouldn't comment on VC funding.

The service uses the public APIs from social networks like Twitter and Foursquare to collect that data and send it to users in a daily email.

"What's the point?" you might ask. I thought the same, but in a world where our musings are tweeted and our favorite moments shared on our smartphones, it doesn't hurt to have a little reminder of where we were a year ago.

Wegener says the gentle digital reminders from the past in a daily email are "emotionally powerful," citing users who are reliving their child's birth and viewing pictures they posted a year earlier.

But what happens when we don't want to be reminded of the past? What if the daily reminder mentions an ex-boyfriend or someone who has since died?

Wegener admitted that's been a problem for Timehop. "We've had a surprising number of people unsubscribing due to people not wanting to relive a tough patch of history," he said.

The crew is currently working on a filter that would allow users more control over their reminders and a snooze feature that would turn off the service temporarily.

Wegener, who has spent nearly a year on the project, says the tweets we send, the pictures we post, and the other bits of media we've started creating on a daily basis will ultimately gain value.

"The content you create gains value with time. So whether it's a photograph or tweet, it becomes more emotional with time -- it ages like wine," he said.

Of course, the philosophy must be backed by a business plan and it's not clear whether Timehop will be able to pull that off. Timehop eventually hopes to make money from advertising. Wegener said there is also potential for virtual gifts connected with a service that celebrates the past.

Only time will tell if our digital past will be a success in the future. We'll sign up for Timehop and check back in a year. To top of page

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