Every day, through cameras on our phones, Facebook posts, emails and text messages, we record our lives. But out of so many snippets of information, how much reflects what’s really important to us? For future generations, how do we pass on something that reveals what our lives are like in the 21st Century?
That’s the challenge the co-founders of NotForgotten are meeting with their Video Time Capsule platform. The idea is an ambitious one: using multiple storage methods, blockchain, library cataloging systems and genealogy records, NotForgotten will store customers’ video records for up to 300 years — to be viewed generations from now.
Adrienne Liebenberg, who has a background in product development and marketing for major industrial multinationals, and Paul Waterman, CEO of British specialty chemicals company Elementis, came up with the idea over a dinner. While discussing who they’d most like to have dinner with, Waterman chose his father, who died when Waterman was a boy.
“All he had today were one or two grainy photos and a newspaper article,” Liebenberg says. “He said, ‘You know, Adrienne, what I’d really, really love is to have a sense of my dad. To have any kind of human record of the person he was.’
“The fear of being forgotten is enormous,” Liebenberg says. Though we have hundreds of videos and photos stored on our phones and computers, “the reality is, having that video that really matters and having you on video for generations is a really, really difficult problem to solve.”
Which is why no one has attempted it before.
Making the video is the easy part of the equation. When customers buy a NotForgotten Video Time Capsule — for $69 To $149, depending on how long the video will be preserved — they make videos on their phones, perhaps using a script of suggested topics, such as the most impactful events in their lives. NotForgotten edits the video, up to 30 minutes long.
Then come the two major challenges: how to preserve the videos for centuries and how to set up the videos so descendants know of their existence and can find them. Liebenberg devised a multi-part approach for each.
The videos are stored in two locations: on the cloud and in a physical form, on a tape in a secure, climate-controlled facility and leading data storage company in Tennessee. The format the video is stored on will be updated every decade for the next 300 years, so it’s readable centuries from now. The constant updating and preservation is paid for by the Digital Preservation Trust, a fund Liebenberg and Waterman set up for that purpose. Customers also get a copy of their video.
As for how a customer’s grandchildren’s grandchildren would find a video, NotForgotten is using blockchain, genealogy records, wills and library systems to keep records of these videos current. Blockchain, a public, decentralized and constantly growing database of “blocks” of information, was created in 2008 to record Bitcoin transactions. Each block builds on the one before it, making it impossible to delete blocks once they’ve been added to the blockchain.
NotForgotten will record, in a contract stored in the blockchain, the existence of the videos and their locations. Assuming the blockchain perseveres as a useable database far into the future — and Liebenberg believes it will — the NotForgotten contract and information about the videos will be discoverable generations from now.
Blockchain is just one way NotForgotten plans to preserve the records of its videos. It also will create GEDCOM files for customers. These are files of genealogical information, compatible with genealogy programs like ancestry.com. NotForgotten will use GEDCOM files to link genealogy information to details about the physical and virtual locations of the videos.
Customers can include these details in their wills, too. Finally, NotForgotten makes use of library systems to preserve records of the videos’ existence. All NotForgotten videos are made public, the company says (there is an option to have a video remain private for 50 years). NotForgotten plans to build a library of the videos, based on the idea that as a whole, the content of the videos adds to our general knowledge about our experiences as people living in the 21st Century.
“We aren’t just creating the ability for people to capture themselves digitally in a time capsule,” Liebenberg says. “We are also creating a library of human experience.”OCLC, a global library cooperative based in Ohio, has approved NotForgotten’s status as a library, therefore recognizing it as a public resource of information that can be accessed and researched for the next few centuries. That’s the key factor in ensuring the videos last.
“When you’re contributing your video, your time capsule to NotForgotten’s library, you’re contributing to a future, accurate history of people that’s going to be studied for generations to come,” Liebenberg says. “And that’s the purpose of a library.”
Waterman and Liebenberg have pooled $1 million of their own funds, without outside investors, to build NotForgotten with the work of 25 temporary workers. They plan to sell Video Time Capsules on their site, as wells as on Amazon and other retail platforms. They’ll also market through Facebook and genealogy sites.The first NotForgotten videos, created as test content, were interviews with senior citizens, cancer patients, a woman in her 20s who wanted to make a present for herself on her 80th birthday, and even Liebenberg’s mom. These participants were asked about happiness, life lessons, life-altering experiences, and messages for their descendants.
“You start to get some real understanding of a time and place in history,” Liebenberg says. “As we start to grow in scale, our library will start to grow. And we will make that accessible to the world.”
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