While the Internet offers an unprecedented opportunity for recording and capturing human knowledge, it’s been said that it’s no substitute for a library. Despite efforts like the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine to preserve digital content, there’s no guarantee that what is published on the web will remain there in perpetuity. Sometimes, things are lost. And much critical information exists behind paywalls.
Cowbird is a project launched in 2011 by artist and computer scientist Jonathan Harris in an effort to “deepen the web,” according to the Wall Street Journal. The website is working to create a digital archive of shared human consciousness. The website bills itself as a “public library of human experience, offering a simple set of storytelling tools — for free, and without ads.” Users own their content, selecting from any of the six Creative Commons licenses for their work.
Stories are tagged by a wide array of topics, and the archive is searchable. One can search everything related to “1979” or by an array of roles, everything from “writer” to “wanderer” to “yogi.” The site has all of the functionality of a social networking site; items can be shared, commented on and “loved.” But it differentiates itself by pointing out that where “Social networks try to be timely; Cowbird tries to be timeless.”
So far, the site has stories by 54,849 authors from 185 countries, who have told 84,304 stories on 28,121 topics. The site focuses on text, audio and images (no video). And it has established production partnerships with some hard-hitting media organizations, including National Geographic, Transom and NPR.
Stories on Cowbird run the gamut, of, well, human experience. One story recounts the experience of a woman organizing black, female, domestic worker, bus-riders in Oakland, California, protesting curtailment of bus service in 1950. Another recounts a week teaching yoga at a conference in Mexico, witnessing the sunrise. Yet another tells of the bond between father and son.
In the last several weeks, devotees of Detroit social justice activist and teacher Grace Lee Boggs, who passed away on Oct. 5, have been using the tool to commemorate Boggs’ legacy through their stories. So far, 16 people have “sprouted” a “seed” planted by local independent multimedia journalist Zak Rosen on the site, asking “What did Grace Lee Boggs teach you?”
The site is supported through optional “citizen” donations of $5/month. You can get started telling your story at Cowbird.com.