September 11 2008 / by Alvis Brigis
Category: The Web Year: 2008 Rating: 4
Essentially a Wikipedia-meets-Facebook for the dead, new service Footnote.com follows Google News Archive Search as the second serious business model built around retro-active quantification of social information to make waves this week.
A one-stop shop for ancestral information, Footnote aggregates, sorts and structures historical documents “relating to the Revolutionary War, Civil War, WWI, WWII, US Presidents, historical newspapers, naturalization documents, etc”, then mixes in social networking and user feedback to create useful timelines, historical links and family trees. Basically, they’re trying to corner the market on ancestral information by taking the most comprehensive approach possible.
It’s a brilliant and inevitable idea. As Facebook, MySpace, Orkut, LinkedIn, Google, and Wikipedia dominate the social networking and information pie, other companies looking to strike it rich are forced to carve out more focused value niches outside the direct scope of the big boys. From a macro perspective, it’s clear that these companies need to mix a monetizable model with novel/valuable content and a good user experience. And that’s exactly what Footnote is trying to pull off here.
By focusing on historical information, Footnote is avoiding major head-on competition (though Google certainly will make a big dent, but – then again – is also a likely acquirer) as it tries to rapidly grow community and data value. As a result, it has become yet another force behind the relatively nascent Retro-Quant trend, essentially making it a smarter historian thanks to it’s unique techno-social approach.
The fact that such a business model makes perfect economic sense reinforces the notion that Retro-Quant will grow to become a multi-billion $ industry sometime over the next several years. There’s simply too much value to be unearthed: human behavioral data, hidden crime (on many levels), genetic/evolutionary patterns, cognitive patterns, etc.
From the individual human perspective this trend is obviously double-edged. On the one hand, it’s fascinating and useful to piece together the one true human story. Such quantification provide us with more context for our existence. On the other, it can reveal weaknesses and secrets that we may well not want our fellow humans to become aware of. And so it remains to be seen how the various people and societies of the world will react to this growing force that seeks to obliterate personal historical privacy.
From a cosmological perspective, the Retro-Quant trend is really interesting because it lines up nicely with a concept that Oxford University futurist and transhumanist Nick Bostrom has dubbed the Simulation Hypothesis. Bostrom contends that if 1) humans will one day create AI, and 2) place AI elements into immersive ancestral simulations, then 3) it is highly likely that we are already living inside such a simulation. The strengthening Retro-Quant trend lends serious credence to #2.
So is that where this is all headed? As social networks and graphs become more realistic thanks to rapidly advancing virtual world technologies, isn’t it rather likely, due to emerging market forces, that they will incorporate simulations and eventually AI? If so, new platforms like Footnote could by then become the mature companies driving the creation of such simulations and/or new universes, thus helping to build turtles, upon turtles, upon turtles, etc.
In the meantime they sure will make for great historical reaseach tools.