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Content, technology and the digital scrapbook of your life

Every year it seems our cell phones take on new roles in our lives. Long ago flip phones merely enabled you to make calls. Today’s smartphones are loaded with sensors to do everything from track your health to tell you about a sale at a local store.

I think it’s time for our phones to do even more and this involves the convergence of content and technology to automatically create the digital story of your life.

Imagine an app that constantly monitors your phone’s location to do the following:

  • Log where you were today and make assumptions about what you did in each location,
  • Gather and organize content relevant to where you’ve been,
  • Build it all into a living, growing record that you can edit and share with others.

Sounds fairly straightforward, right? Now let’s think about the results of this.

One day you went to see the Reds play the Pirates in Pittsburgh at PNC Park. The app logs the event and pulls in the box score along with a couple of noteworthy articles about the game from the Cincinnati and Pittsburgh newspapers. It also saves the weather information (e.g., “partly cloudy, 61 degrees at first pitch with a high of 68 degrees”) and provides interesting factoids about what happened in sports on that same day 5 years ago, 10 years ago, etc.

On another day you attend your child’s college graduation ceremony. The app checks the school’s calendar and determines you were indeed at the ceremony. This information is logged and because the school was kind enough to expose the graduation program to the app, it too has now been digitally preserved in your stream.

By the way, this imaginary app also offers a user network. So it knows that you went with a friend to that baseball game, and your friend is part of the app’s network. This tidbit is also preserved along with all the great pictures you both took at the stadium. No longer do you have to worry about uploading or emailing photos; your app settings were already configured for two-way sharing between you and the friend who accompanied you at the game. The same goes for the graduation ceremony; now all your friends and family who are members of this service all have access to each other’s pictures.

We could, of course, extend this even further… If you ordered food at that baseball game the information could be logged so you could easily track your diet. In short, any transaction that takes place on your phone could be wired into this app as well. Those transactions that aren’t made with your phone could still be easily integrated: just take pictures of the receipt and the phone does the rest.

The app’s goal is to provide every user with a digital scrapbook of their life. The key is to automate as much of this process as possible. Let your phone and the app figure out what to collect and you can always go in and tweak it later if you want.

There’s also an enormous content opportunity here. I mentioned how the app pulls in content from newspapers but, of course, the feeds could come from anywhere. Ultimately this is a way to redeploy content based on context and preserve it for years and years. After all, one of the reasons you want to gather this information is to remember and relive the events of last week or last year. It’s also an interesting way to build the story of your life, one that can be passed on from one generation to the next. I’d love to have this kind of information about my parents and grandparents, for example.

A variety of business models could be used here including free, advertising/sponsor-based and premium. Ancestry.com and other genealogy services have proven the interest we have in our past. People spend hours and hours sifting through all that historical data, making assumptions about family connections, how people met, etc. An app like this eliminates the guesswork and tells the life story you want to communicate with your friends and future generations.

Comments

Lori Cates Hand

Mind = blown!

I totally think something like this will come about. But you know what I'm going to say next: privacy! The idea kind of creeps me out. But we're already sharing this kind of info now. This would just save us some time. In addition to the genealogy component for future generations, this is great info for when you want to go back and write your memoir at some point. Maybe also add a VR component to really recreate the experience! :)

Joe Wikert

Hi Lori. Yes, this one certainly has plenty of privacy challenges. I'm not sure they're any more of an obstacle than what we see with other modern apps and platforms though. This definitely requires a variety of privacy settings for the user to select from, no doubt.

And you're right about the memoir angle. The other one I didn't want to mention, mostly because it's just such a dark and dreary subject, is obits and memorial services. I've seen family members frantically digging around after a loved one dies, trying to assemble a video tribute. Why not let something like *this* fill that void, particularly since it's curated by the actual person whose life it describes?

Are you listening, newspaper publishers?... This could be a really cool way to not only redeploy your content but also help you remain relevant in the digital obits business.

Brian Harrington

Hi Joe,

Have you ever seen David Gelernter's Lifestreams stuff from the 1990s? (Hard to believe it's been that long.) Try http://cs-www.cs.yale.edu/homes/freeman/lifestreams.html or the book Mirror Worlds http://www.amazon.com/Mirror-Worlds-Software-Universe-Shoebox/dp/019507906X. He (and his student Eric Freeman) basically lay out the architecture you're describing. Unfortunately Gelernter's attempts to commercialize his vision failed, and he's since retreated into curmudgeondom (the whole Unabomber thing can't have helped) but it really was quite brilliant, and there's still a lot to build on.

Brian

Joe Wikert

Hi Brian. Thanks for your note. No, I hadn't heard about Gelernter but I'll definitely check it out. Very cool that he was starting to develop this vision way back in the 90's!

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