Is Social Media bad for the environment?


Sunset in JamaicaOdd question isn’t it?

I mean, surely Social Media is doing a lot for the cause, helping people spread the word via blogs, organize efforts and make everyone aware of our global climate crisis. Sarah Perez (love her stuff) even has a great post just today on How to Use Social Media for Social Change. Of course I agree, as evidenced by my early post on the Importance of Social Media and Amanda Chapel’s constant attacks against me (which I gleefully laugh at as he continues to give me more attention).

So what made me stop trying to fight my insomnia and get out of bed to write such a seemingly silly blog post at 430am this morning?

During the course of the work I have been doing with Intel lately, I have been researching the enterprise IT market and learning a lot about what they have been doing to reduce power consumption while maintaining performance across all there product lines. This CIO survey from March has some interesting details on “The Greening of IT”. It’s a very big and important topic for the industry and each of us. My friend Bill Kircos from Intel tells me that Intel is the largest buyer of reusable/renewable energy as ranked by the EPA (story on Treehugger.com). They are also extending their Greening Efforts across their operations in other important ways such as removing lead from their chips. Even my wife (Kristie Wells) is researching carbon offsets for her company Joyent.

At the same time, I have been thinking a lot about the big data portability issue (which I fully support) and whether or not the recent Facebook/Google challenge over Friend Connect might mean that we are seeing “The Twilight of the Open Web” (a topic of discussion for next months Social Media Club meeting in San Francisco – details to come).

In talking with some folks at the Executing Social Media conference last night, I mentioned this event idea and Nathan Gilliatt remarked we will always have some walled gardens and I replied with my standard “we can’t have walls, we need semi-permeable membranes”, meaning there needs to be some trust filter to keep the bad actors out and the good actors safe – which is the role Facebook claims to be playing in safegauding its users privacy from Friend Connect sites.

This is similar to the debate around Flickr and Zoomr and an open API for user portability which was basically about (paraphrasing) not allowing people to have all their data and photos transferred to a site where they may not be able to take it somewhere else in the future. As Stuart Butterfield said “we definitely should approve requests from direct competitors as long as they do the same … fair’s fair”. Or as Marc Canter infamously said at BloggerCon IV, “If you’re gonna suck, you gotta spit“.

Now look at the great and hugely popular service that FriendFeed and SocialThing are providing, a true value for sure, but it is duplicating, and in some cases tripling the amount of storage used for the same content.

Was also thinking about TubeMogul, which Tim Street mentioned during a session yesterday and which I also happen to love. It allows you to send your video to any and all of the video sharing sites you want all at once, saving us a great deal of time in distributing our video. Of course, there are also the people who take copies of it and upload it to other servers and other sites…

So these thoughts and discussions lead to me wondering about the impact that all of this data duplication we are creating with our Social Media is creating. Multiple hard drives, redundant systems, ultimately needing to head to a landfill or get partially recycled and replaced. Perhaps it is merely distributing the consumption we would have had anyway, but I have over 8,000 photos on Flickr and if I put them on Zoomr too that would be (@3MB each) 24 GB of extra storage space I am taking up on primary systems, plus backups – then the electricity to run it all.

Jake McKee talks about how he and his wife upload the same photos to their different Flickr accounts, what if they switched and then switched again. Of course, we also have a ton of different equipment we are using for creating and consuming media. Just today I had my M-Audio podcast rig, my Flip video camera, my phone and my iPod sitting in front of me next to my 3rd iBook/MacBook. The impact of manufacturing and disposal and power consumption of all this stuff we are using is just huge.

Of course, this is, most importantly, the method through which the whole of our society is improving, growing smarter and becoming more connected.

It’s obviously ok for the storage folks bottom lines and the power company and even me as a Social Media evangelist, but is Social Media bad for the environment? Shouldn’t we all be thinking more about Storage Conservation instead of Duplication?

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