Snapchat has proven there’s a market for self-destructing photographs. What about self-destructing Tweets?
Enter Efemr, a new Web app that allows users to set expiration dates on anything they post on Twitter. Once you sign up with Efemr, you can include a hashtag with any of your Tweets, determining how long (#10m = ten minutes; #5h = five hours) before the Tweet disappears.
The app arrives at a time when consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the permanency of their social media footprints. In one high-profile example, the Library of Congress is currently creating an enormous Twitter archive that will allow scholars to study such things as your moment-by-moment reactions to the third season of Game of Thrones for centuries to come. At the same time, big-data companies are quietly collecting, storing, and analyzing vast amounts of social interactions online to repackage and sell to marketers. All of which, various surveys suggest, is making consumers a bit uneasy.
The appeal of Efemr—and other ephemeral media products—is that it gives consumers control (or, at least, the illusion of control) over the lifespan of whatever it is they’re sharing online. Efemr’s website promises that the app, which is free, will allow you to “protect your privacy,” “control your reputation better,” and share “humorous fleeting moments” without having to worry about it being dredged up at some later date.
There’s one obvious problem: Twitter’s culture of retweeting would seem to undermine the effectiveness of the app. “All it takes is a retweet to ruin any attempt to cover your tracks,” notes the Verge.
“Efemr has absolutely no control over deleting someone else’s action of retweeting your questionable tweet,” reports Digital Trends. “Even if you’ve asked Efemr to delete your post in one hour, if it was retweeted or even favorited you’re out of luck, and it will live on somewhere.”
“Essentially, the usefulness of the app is up for debate,” notes Wired.
For the moment, the creators of the Efemr are keeping a low profile. There’s no information on the company’s website about who created the app other than one line stating that it “is a Lean Startup.” Efemr did not respond to an interview request sent via the site’s contact form.
For years, Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, a lawyer and a professor at the University of Oxford, has argued that all information online should come with a customizable expiration date. “People have always asked me, ‘Why hasn’t the market responded?’” Mayer-Schönberger told us recently. “Snapchat and others are responding.” Efemr now joins that growing list.