Saving for Live

March 8th, 2007 by Editor

by Claes-Fredrik Mannby

Life LibraryA topic that has started migrating from research communities to widespread adoption is the notion of a Life Library.

In 1945, Vannevar Bush proposed a computer system he called the memex (“memory extender”). It involved electronically linking frames of microfilm. Ever since, and probably since long before then, people have had the notion of treating the world around them, in a sense, as an extended memory system.

When you collect souvenirs from the places you visit, and put them on your shelves or in your drawers, you stash away potent memory-evoking devices that you know you will run into, bringing back memories when you encounter them.

When you read books and add them to your library, you extend an index in your mind, and accrue wisdom. The books themselves, whether you keep them at home, or rely on other libraries, become reference material that you can use to elaborate on the memories as needed.

Digital media, as exemplified by movies, audio recordings, hypertext, photos and chat logs, open up a similar world of extended human mind.

Exbiblio sees incredible value in uniting the physical and digital worlds into a single extension for your mind, in this sense. By capturing video and audio recordings of physical parts of your “library,” we can connect them directly to the digital realm, which usually has counterparts to the physical library, and add value in various ways by helping you navigate both realms, continually learning from your individual usage and from aggregate usage.

It’s a very topical and interesting question, then, what aspects of such “Life Libraries” that have been proposed or exist, which have failed and which have been successful, and which will become commonplace, if any.

A very famous example of such a library is the MyLifeBits Project at Microsoft Research. I’ve heard it described as a system that would feed on a continuous stream of video and audio from, say, a head-mounted video camera, always on, always recording. The realization is that you’ll actually be able to store that magnitude of data soon.

I personally have about 300 gigabytes of photos and short videos (and I haven’t yet digitized about 30 hours worth of video footage and 100s of rolls of celluloid film), and it’s currently growing at about 80 gigabytes per year, and it will increase as cameras and video cameras get better. Still, storage is growing very fast, and you can today get a 500 gigabyte hard disk for $134 plus tax, shipping and handling in the USA.

WIRED recently posted an article describing this sort of behavior as disposophobia. It’s an issue that I think we should face head on. I.e., is “saving for life” a psychological problem, or a use case?

We recently invited Edison Thomaz, creator of Slife and Slifeshare for a visit to Exbiblio, and he gave us a wonderful demo of his product. Slife basically tracks everything you do with your computer, and visualizes it for you. Edison originally came at the idea, I believe, from a research perspective, and he is very interested in analyzing behavior and deducing higher-level actions from smaller ones, such as mouse clicks. The idea is that if the computer can understand your intentions, it can provide a much better user experience.

Having a record of all the interactions also makes it possible for you to interact with your history. You can search for content constrained to time spans and applications, for example, or by the amount of interaction.

Slifeshare then takes this data, and, under your control, publishes it to the Web, so you can interact with other people about your activities. You can meet people with similar music interests, browsing habits, etc.

Many people react negatively to such active monitoring. It definitely needs to be done with a keen eye toward privacy and security. Still, today’s teenagers seem to be throwing such caution to the wind, judging by the MySpace phenomenon. Even people my age blog about detailed personal events in a way that is unheard of, historically. For example, a few days after we interviewed a software engineer, I visited a local company, Ontela, and their CEO, Dan Shapiro, told me about things he had learned about Exbiblio by reading the software engineer’s blog.

Mena Trott, of Six Apart made a fascinating presentation at TED, where she talks at length about such personal blogging. If you doubt there’s a real trend going on, you should listen to her presentation.

It will be interesting to hear from more and more people about the value they see in keeping historical records, what their privacy concerns are, and what they would like to share with friends and family, or the world. One of Mena’s company’s latest ventures, Vox, is interesting in this context, because it adds groups and permissions to blogging, as well as media references, which are very relevant to the Exbiblio experience.

Exbiblio had the privilege this week to meet with an old friend of Bill Valenti’s, Christian Lindholm, of Nokia UI fame, who is also a fan of the Life Library notion. He created a product called the LifeBlog, which captures a stream of photos and phone interactions, and lets you browse their timeline. He definitely sees the value in not only analyzing your interaction history to improve your interactions with computers and phones, but takes tens of pictures a day, and, with the aid of the forthcoming N95, composes videos on his phone, in the car while going from one event to the next. You can see excerpts from his LifeBlog at As he put it, he thinks the next big thing is not better UI, but content.

It’s still an open question how much of a memex librarian most people are, and in what form they are.

Do you see the value in saving for life?

2 Responses to “Saving for Live”

  1. Jesse Peterson Says:

    Now that I am just starting to scratch the surface of some of my family’s history and genealogy your last sentence has a certain resonance. I think about how things would be different if technology were able to somehow keep details of lives persisting. For example what types of periodicals did my great-grandfather read in the early 1900’s? Also, pictures and sounds could well document someone early life to marriage to locations around the world, etc. Getting to know, intimately, my family’s heritage might be simpler. Of course, that’s very long term storage we’re talking about there.

    More on-topic, though, might be the reasons or value in saving the details of one’s own life. The reasons might range from simple sentimental value to memory aids in older years or to documente the history of one’s life. Though I’d need to ask: to who’s benefit is that last case for? Perhaps my descendants. Maybe to society as a whole (at the discretion of family or a will). I’ve not answered that question of for myself yet.

    Interestingly I don’t think the internet age has yet had its generational demise yet, to put it grimly. I will be curious how, in the future, people’s various online representations – blogs, old newsgroup postings, mailing list posts – and even private communications like email boxes, computer files, digital photographs, as well as other data is persisted once a person is no longer living. In the physical world a persons possessions (including those documents and artifacts of life) are probably given to close family and large assets sold off. How do digital things get handed off?

    Privacy in this arena is obviously paramount. One specific question I’ve had is: if I were to get hit by a bus on my way home today would my family and close friends even be able to get to my life’s digital data? I take some steps to try and protect those assets from the “big bad internet,” but is this self-defeating for those related to me or interested in my life that I’d want to have access?

    I think I have a new document to write for the safe-deposit-box: instructions and keys to my digital life.

  2. Micky Says:

    Yes,It is very good!
    “Do you see the value in saving for life? ” let me think more for my life and value of my life now.