25 Years Later

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Photo by Waldemar on Unsplash

Photo by Waldemar on Unsplash

Yesterday, I needed to find an old email. By old, I mean from 1998. I connected the relevant Maildir (stored in an archive) to my mail server, and my email client spotted it right away, ready for reading.

I stumbled upon an email from an old friend I had lost touch with around that time. That email is the last trace I have of him - in which we promised to catch up soon - so I decided to reach out. Instinctively, I searched on Google, social media, etc., but found nothing. He wasn't tech-savvy, so I wasn't surprised. The only lead I had was this email address, which I had set up for him on a free mail server he used for school.

I decided to give it a shot. I replied with a simple line: "We promised to catch up soon. Is 25 years long enough? :-)" - fully expecting the email to bounce back as "unknown recipient" or "mailbox full" (of spam).

No errors. To my immense surprise, two hours later, I received his reply: "After 25 years, one email isn't enough; we need to meet for at least two days. We have 25 years of life to catch up on."

Here's the reflection that struck me: after 25 years, I could read and reply to an email without a hitch. The open and decentralized standard of emails ensured its longevity and compatibility.

What would've happened if all I had of my old friend was a "PIN" from BlackBerry Messenger? Or any other proprietary and closed communication tool, perhaps now defunct or bankrupt? Take, for instance, Adobe Flash. Once the backbone of interactive web content, it's now almost unsupported. Countless creative works, animations, and interactive experiences crafted in Flash face the risk of vanishing, becoming mere digital memories.

In light of this, it's essential to understand the value of open standards. Throughout history, open standards have proven to benefit users by ensuring accessibility, longevity, and compatibility. Whether it's the HTML that powers the web or the SMTP protocol for emails, they stand the test of time and evolve with our needs, ensuring that our digital footprints aren't lost to proprietary systems.

Are we truly certain that, in 25 years, WhatsApp, iMessage, Telegram, Discord, Slack, etc. will still be active and accessible?

In an era where control over information and data has become central, it's even more crucial to rely on open, decentralized, interoperable standards.

More Matrix and less Discord, more Fediverse and fewer closed social networks, more Mastodon and less Twitter (or rather, X).

Written and posted by: Stefano Marinelli

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