Artifcts: Chronicling the Hidden Histories of Your “Stuff”

By Mark Ogilbee posted 09-15-2022 06:50 AM


We’ve all got “stuff” that’s important to our personal or family history. AgeTech Collaborative™ startup participant Artifcts is a web-based and mobile app that helps you capture the significance behind the stuff with photos, videos and audio, all integrated into one simple tool. 

We met with Ellen Goodwin, one of Artifcts’ co-founders, to learn more about how the company helps preserve the “generational wealth” or seemingly ordinary objects. 


Will you please tell us who you are and a little bit about your company? 

I'm Ellen Goodwin, the co-founder of Artifcts, which is an online and mobile app. The idea behind Artifcts is to help people capture the stories, memories and histories that are locked behind objects that we collect or accumulate in the course of our lives. 

These objects can't speak, but they’re vessels for all kinds of powerful sentimental memories; there's a lot of generational wealth hidden in these objects that you may not know about. So we want to help people take that moment to understand what's meaningful and valuable, then document it, share it and use it to connect with others. 


Let’s say I have my father’s pocket watch from when he worked on the railroad. How would I go about Artifcting that? 

It’s very simple, and it’s up to you how to do it. Often, people just grab their phone, take a photo, and attach the photo right in the app. Then you only have to fill in some details, like titling it “Dad’s railroad pocket watch.” Some people choose comedic titles, like, “The watch that wouldn’t give up,” and things like that. 

After you enter a title, you can choose various categories and filters, then provide a description. The description could be just a few words, or it could be a whole story about the history of that pocket watch, how it’s gone through your family, how you ended up with it, and even what you want to do with it one day.  

There are additional options, like tagging. You can also take a short video or sound bite describing the object or its history. Using audio or video really brings the objects to life. 


What’s the origin story of Artifcts? 

The genesis of Artifcts comes out of grief, actually. My co-founder's mother passed away abruptly a few years ago. She had her financial affairs in order, but for the tangible assets, the will just said: "Divide everything equally among the three children." And — oh, boy. The sad reality is, even when people say they don’t want to create a burden on the next generation, that’s exactly what happens when they leave behind a whole house full of stuff. 

What do you do with it all? What do you keep and what do you get rid of? But if you knew the story behind that locket — say, that it came from France in the 1930s — then maybe you would want to keep it, versus it just being some random locket. 

We wanted to find a way to facilitate this that wasn’t just an inventory. We know what things are; the problem isn’t one of just creating a list. The problem is: How do we capture the humanity behind these objects? What are the memories, the histories, the stories? That’s what we set out to build. And we built it from scratch, to make sure that it’s totally private and secure. 


What steps have you taken to ensure privacy? 

All Artifcts are private by default. But we wanted to be sure that every private Artifct could still have value, so you can share your Artifcts securely with other Artifcts members. You can also make Artifcts public to share on social media. 


What phases of growth has Artifcts gone through? 

In our first year, we were very product-focused. We worked to get audio and video capabilities, and we were very much in touch with the community of people who were starting to use Artifcts. What those people want to be able to do is very important to us — and we don’t want to assume people need all these features they don’t really need. 

Now, in our second year, we’re looking ahead with huge aspirations about all the things we want to do. It’s also about getting the word out about Artifcts, reaching out to the different audiences that have come to us, and getting it into the hands of more people. 


It sounds like you’re following one of the principles of human-centered design. How did you land on that approach? 

We knew from the outset we weren’t approaching Artifcts like social media — which had some challenges. People would say, “Where are the emojis? How many people have liked it?” People are addicted to that kind of input, and we wanted to turn the whole thing topsy-turvy. 

At my prior company, I was used to clients coming to us and saying, “I need widget X.” They would come to us with a solution. But what we had to do was get to the root of their problem, because the solution they presented may not have been the right solution. So part of our design process comes from this learned patience for figuring out the root of something, versus what it might look like superficially. 


You have some exciting events coming up soon. Can you tell us about that? 

One is that October is National Family History Month. Artifcts is a great tool for people interested in genealogy, and we’ll be talking a lot about that. 

Also, on September 15, we’re launching our Evenings with Artifcts series. During the fall, every Thursday evening we’re hosting a free series that will cover all sorts of different topics. We’ll have a chef talking about tools of the trade and sharing Artifcts representing the story of their career. We’ll have estate planners talking about all the things that people leave behind when they pass.  

We’ll also have people talking about how to preserve photos and documents. We have a decluttering and downsizing industry that often says, “Just digitize everything, and you’re done.” But photos can’t talk. And there’s a generational challenge. For example, I have a photo of my mother when she was younger, playing tennis. But my daughter doesn’t know who that is in the picture, or why she’s playing tennis — because her grandmother definitely “doesn’t play tennis.” So you have to give life to these photos, which Artifcts enables you to do.  


You can find out much more about Artifcts by visiting their website.