Bringing ephemerality to the web

Elevenist is an emoji news cranker. It’s a way for users to keep track of writers and websites that they value, directly. It’s also a way to keep track of what their friends think is the best content.

In addition to all that, it is also a statement about how business on the web should be run and how the users of a site should be treated.

To that end, we have made a key design decision going into Elevenist: Ephemerality — we do our best not to hang onto data.

Said another way, we throw a lot of data out that I imagine users would generally assume we keep (because any other website like ours would).

The most obvious data trail users leave behind on our site is made up of the links they bump and the links they comment on. In fact, all of this gets thrown out after only a few days.

We don’t analyze it to build a profile of you. We don’t even keep it in our logs. In case you haven’t noticed, all links shared on our site disappear. When they aren’t visible to you, they aren’t in our databases any more.

The only way we hold onto records of users interacting with links in an explicit way is when they use our bookmark feature. Obviously if you want to use Elevenist to save a link, we need to put that in a permanent spot in our database. Still, it’s there for you; it’s not there for us.

Realistically, it’s tough to really delete data on the modern web in a way that no one could ever recover it, but there’s two approaches a web app can take to their visitors’ data exhaust. One, they can log as many data points as they can in order to profile, manipulate and sell their visitors. Or two, they can delete as much as possible and ignore the rest as if it were so much dust gathering in the corners of their software, basically ignored.

We do the latter.

Everything we do errs on the side of throwing users’ history on the site out after enough time has passed that it has reasonably ceased to be useful to them and the people they wanted to see it (11 days, if you want to be specific).

Just to give you a sense for how far this goes: for now we aren’t even keeping track of traffic on Elevenist or this blog, Elvenism. Eventually we’ll add something that does that, but we’ll be very careful to choose a product that makes no effort to personally identify visitors.

That’s not what we are about. We might be shooting ourselves in the foot by collecting so little information about how people interact with our site, but we have a point we’d like to make. If you’re on board with this vision, then use Elevenist and help us make it.

We have some other features in mind going forward that will require holding on to a bit more data temporarily in order to elevate certain users at certain times, help users who want to find each other do so and hopefully make using the site a bit more fun. Still, our approach to those features remains grounded in ephemerality, which is entirely new in this part of the web. We hope that will make those features feel like fresh approaches to the familiar (and creepy) motifs of the internet circa now.

The ephemerality on our site isn’t obvious right now but we are working on that. In the meantime, we’re writing down our intent here. We delete what we realistically can and we do not profile, model or manipulate with whatever remains.

We want our visitors to become our customers and we want our customers to be the only people we are serving.