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Telling the Stories Behind the Things

About five years ago, Heather Nickerson suddenly lost her mother. “One day she was there, and the next day she wasn’t.”

Being the eldest daughter, Nickerson was in charge of what to do with the things her mother had accumulated over six decades. She and her brothers agreed that they would keep the things that would tell the stories of their mother.

But they were frustrated: they had no way of knowing what those things were. Did her mom not use the crystal vase because it meant so much to her and she was afraid of breaking it? Or was it because Aunt Mildred gave it to her, and she disliked her aunt?

It was easy, Nickerson said, to figure out things that have value—like artwork or jewelry. But how do you determine sentimental value? How do you know what best tells a story for the next generation?

“We never thought to ask, Hey Mom, why do you like this?” Nickerson said. “What’s the story behind this?”

Oak Tree Sixpence @Grandpaw

That was the genesis of Artifcts, a secure online platform created to document and preserve the history, life moments and memories of the objects behind the stories.

“I wanted to do something that would be a way to pass down stories, not just things,” Nickerson said.

How It Works

Artifcts is a platform that allows users upload photos of an object and document the facts that give it meaning: from whom or where it was acquired, where it was made, where it is now, and why it has been treasured and kept for so long. Documentation, such as warranties or appraisals, can be attached. Entries can be categorized and tagged, a way of finding items and linking them to one another.

It’s Artifcts, no ‘a’, partly because it’s easier to copyright, Nickerson said. But she and her co-founder Ellen Goodwin like to say they are redefining artifacts. “Artifcts you create do not need to be valuable or historically relevant,” the website advises. “An Artifct is anything that has meaning to you.” When you create an Artifct, you are Artifcting.

For her part, Nickerson created Artifcts to preserve the stories of the objects that outlive us. In practical terms, she saw it as useful for estate planning and insurance purposes. But people use it in myriad and sometimes surprising ways.

Artists use the system to catalogue and share their work, documenting the creative process and sales. Users in their late teens and early twenties turn to Artifcts to document key moments and items in their lives, a time capsule unencumbered by the data mining and advertising of social media sites. Thirty- and forty-something parents are Artifcting their children’s artwork.

Some of these uses really surprised Nickerson, she said, because many of these things can be done on other platforms. But not all photograph platforms allow users to attach a story — for instance, parents who wanted to attach a description of art in their child’s own words. Artifcts also allows users to share objects with a limited number of people, either for select items, or for everything they post.

In testing, many users told Goodwin were attracted by the privacy and security features on the site. Nickerson and Goodwin met at the CIA where they spent a decade working as analysts. They take privacy and security extremely seriously. Artifct data security is second only to the federal government, Nickerson said. Information and images are hidden, with defaults set to the most private settings, hidden from the public or other users unless a subscriber decides to share with an audience they define.

What’s Artifcted

Some users have decided to make some of their objects viewable to the public, contributing to a gallery of publicly-viewable Artifcts. “It’s like a museum to humanity,” one user told Nickerson. “It’s almost better than the Smithsonian. You get all these different objects, with all these stories. You can relate to them.”

Objects in the gallery include a 17th century six-pence coin, found in an archaeological dig near Boston; “Lana’s Green Machine,” a machine invented by a child and made of paper, sticks and straw machine that can fly 120 inches. There’s a championship ring from Super Bowl XXXVI, the first victory for Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. And you can view the first page of the book of Ephesians from a Second Century papyri.

Asolo Hiking Boots @Heather

But how can Artifct help connect the physical objects, as they sit on a shelf or in a box, to their stories? After “Artifcting” an object, the platform gives users the option to print and attach a QR code to the object, thereby linking it to its story. One grandparent used the QR codes in a scavenger hunt, handing an iPad to their grandson and telling him to find the various stories.

People have gotten creative. The first Artifct created during beta testing was a living, breathing cat. Nickerson and Goodwin call her lovingly the “Arti-cat”, but her family calls her Princessa.

Charles grew up in a house without pets. He was an adult when he and his wife, on assignment for the State Department in Brazil, adopted a rescue cat. They named her Princessa and she became Charles’ first real pet.

“If I’m commemorating things, this would be something I would want to commemorate,” he said. Nickerson said it was due to Princessa that the Artifcts team created the popular “pets” category.

How easy is it to Artifct? You can use it on a desktop, laptop, tablet. iPhone or Android. Feedback from AARP is that it is really easy to use, especially for a less-tech savvy crowd.

You can Artifct your first five items for free; after that, choose from two different annual subscriptions. Create unlimited entries for $89 a year. Subscriptions are available for gifting. Learn more about Artifcts and Subscribe at artifcts.com/

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