Ever since I was introduced to the concept of “lifestreaming”, I’ve wanted an intelligent system that looks at the popular sources that people use to chronicle things and automatically builds a person’s lifestream. For example, it would parse and understand a person’s tweets to figure out a major event in their life, picking out relevant pictures from the person’s Flickr photostream, combine them to build a timeline of their life, and so on.
What is important in a person’s life should probably not be left for that person to decide for himself. It might sound counter-intuitive, but our perception of importance is warped because it’s relative to our past. On the other hand, a machine could analyse hundreds of thousands of lives and figure out common patterns, classifying the overlapping ones like “first words” and “marriage” as important along with other things that might not have seemed important to us but from a global perspective, it was. Like graduation1.
While all that will probably never happen, the next possible thing is a manually created lifestream. When I say lifestream, I don’t mean the common-knowledge meaning2; that isn’t too interesting. Recording a person’s online life doesn’t achieve anything — it’s their real life that matters. What we can do is use their online activities to keep track (in a non-creepy way) of what they have been up to to build a history of their life, since people love to document things through pictures, blog posts, status updates, etc.. The only problem is the fragmented way they approach it.
A few weeks ago, I saw Dustin Curtis throw out a link to his Lifepath.me3 page. It’s a beautiful, presumably manually created lifestream service. Since signups are closed, I don’t know how it really works. But it’s a pretty decent attempt at a very good idea. I took inspiration from his and created my own4. This allows me to, if I choose to do so in the future, experiment with the automation and pattern recognition I wrote about above. The only problem is that I’m not so good at the documenting bit — I prefer to fully immerse myself in enjoying the moment rather than try to document it for the future. And this is a personal pet-peeve: being an advocate of the experience — enjoying and learning from it — it’s counter intuitive for me to think about not giving in to it a hundred percent, trying to chronicle and share it with others instead.
The trouble is that extra deliberate step we must take to initiate that documentation. This wouldn’t be much of a problem if there was a way our devices, e.g. cameras or whatever you use to send out tweets, could work off of intentions. Or, there was a way to bring together various different experiences to complete your own if you missed out on something5. The second solution is do-able. Services that have a check-in system, status updates and photo uploading all integrated can do this quite easily. But it won’t work unless it’s open and visible outside of said service.
I doubt I’m the first one to see the potential in a well developed and implemented lifestreaming service that truly keeps track of people’s lives. The sociological, psychological and statistical uses would be tremendous — all the things I’m looking at as subjects for a future PhD. proposal. It’s a very interesting time for people who like data. Privacy is dead; long live privacy.
Looks like Facebook is getting in on this. Sadly, Facebook is in the best position to do this (like I hinted at above) but its closed nature really takes away from how useful this could truly be. That, and the fact that the Facebook crowd is too dumb, privacy-paranoid and resistant to change to grasp how amazing it actually is.
The new Path is awesome. They describe themselves as a “Smart Journal”, which is just them trying to not use the term “Social Network”. But Path is unique in the sense that you don’t need to connect with other people for it to be useful, and I decided to start using it privately to log my activities through the day. The option of sharing something publicly is always there with the integration with Twitter. It’s a manually created lifestream, but a beautiful one with very low barriers so the hindrance is not so much of a hindrance. The UI hammers the whole “timeline” perspective home, right from the things one can share to how it looks.
I think Path is doing a lot of things right, and it will be attractive to people looking to have a small, private network. I’m definitely an edge case, but the fact that a social network allows itself to be used this way is very interesting.
It’s huge when you think about the fact that only 6.7% of the whole world’s population holds a college degree. That includes a country like India where holding a degree (at least a Bachelor’s) is almost a given if you’re from a middle-class or above family if you want to be accepted in society. ↩
This would of course only be true for social events where there were many more people. Personal events, like the birth of your child, would remain a problem. ↩