I’d Like to Keep My Memory All In One Place

If it weren’t for Google Desktop I’d be spending an inordinate amount of time looking for stuff I’ve written, and then forgotten what I’d named it. But Google Desktop doesn’t do the whole job — I often comment on others’ blogs, in forums, in wikis and other places that most tools don’t keep track of, and I can never remember where these important thoughts were placed. And with multimedia and collaborative sites becoming more affordable and more important, it’s only going to get worse. I know CoComment is trying to help, but it’s just one more piece to add to the memory storage puzzle, and doesn’t even handle all blogs (including mine).

What we need is a web page that works kind of in reverse — keeping track of everything we’ve ‘sent out’, in any online medium, regardless of where it ended up.

This was an idea I proposed as CKO a few years ago (it was deemed technically too difficult). At that point all I wanted was for employees who had contributed documents (including e-mail messages) to internal repositories to have a place where all such contributed knowledge could be found in one place, so at annual performance review time it would be easy for them to say: “Here, this is what I contributed to our company’s collective knowledge this year.”

The closest analogy I can think of is a scrapbook, a place where we keep all our ‘memories’. The online equivalent I’d like to see would capture all of the following on one ‘page':

  • Posts to your own and others’ blogs, wikis, forums, podcasts and other sites
  • Trackbacks to conversations on others’ sites that your writing has instigated or which refers to you or your writing, or which come from people who have subscribed to your blog or RSS feed, blogrolled you or listed you in their deli.cio.us lists or flickr lists or ‘friends’ or ‘neighbours’ lists
  • Posts on sites you have bookmarked or subscribed to (favorites folders, RSS feed subscriptions, e-mail subscriptions, blogroll, your deli.cio.us, your flickr, your ‘friends’ or ‘neighbours’ lists
  • E-mails, chats and IMs you have sent or received
  • Your Skype, phone, and face-to-face conversations
  • Articles, news and conversations related to subjects you have tagged or set up auto-notifiers for, or searched for and asked to keep apprised of

This massive aggregation would comprise ATSYCA (All The Stuff You Care About), a kind of super-memory or ‘subset of the Web’. Almost as important as the content itself is the names and contact information for all its authors and contributors, ATPYCA (All The People You Care About).

Our brains seem to have an extraordinary random-access way of storing and finding all this stuff, but as new media are increasing the volume of this content by orders of magnitude (and old age is weakening the effectiveness of its recall), we need to rely more and more on mechanical aids to supplement our mental capacity and information processes.

All this information needs to be ‘virtually’ organized in three different ways:

  1. By subject (personal information taxonomy) — So that if you’re browsing for information on a topic you can see a high-level ‘map’ of ATSYCA/ATPYCA on that subject, and zoom in on facets you want to explore or rediscover
  2. By tag (search hook) — So that if you’re searching for some specific piece of information on a topic you can hone in quickly on it
  3. By context and connection — So that if you’re trying to follow a line of thought and see how various articles, points of view or people are connected you can do so

Search engines can enable the second type of use effectively (though with enormous waste, since every single word is indexed). They handle the first and third types of use badly.

The first type of use, by subject (personal information taxonomy) needs a graphical layout organized according to the tableau at the top of the page, described in this earlier post, a landscape you could navigate from top level and drill down to as much depth as made sense, to organize all your ATSYCA/ATPYCA. That taxonomy and its granularity could evolve over time — you could ‘redraw the landscape’ as you learned more about some subjects and integrated thinking on others.

The third type of use (by context and connection) also needs a graphical format, but this time ‘parsing’ and linking all the content by what (and who) it was connected to, rather than by subject. It would present a ‘route map’ rather than a ‘logical map’ of this content. It might also allow you to drill down from a ‘colloquium’ level to a ‘conversation’ level to a ‘thread’ level of granularity, and would provide ‘departure points’ where you could add and simultaneously share content (by allowing you to ‘publish to’ and others to ‘subscribe to’ new departures and amplifications from any node on the map.

The result of both the first and third types of navigation could be (or at least include) what would effectively be ‘collective intelligence’ of a group, but the map would allow you to tweak it to your personal ‘view’, deleting or hiding content you didn’t find valuable and adding personal annotations ‘for your eyes only’.

Although these taxonomic maps and routing maps (and perhaps tag clouds — you know those things that show the prevalence of tags on a particular site by the size of the font of the tag name) might actually reside on a single web site, or your own hard drive, they could just as easily reside out in hyperspace, where you and others could access them anytime from anywhere, and where they’d be easy to update and maintain.

There are some technical challenges to doing this (notably keeping ‘public’ web-hosted and ‘private’ hard drive-located content separate according to each user’s personal permissioning rules), but the biggest challenges are likely to be imaginative: keeping the navigation ‘Google simple’, automating the update of the maps, and enabling interactivity of shared, published and subscribed content.

But it shouldn’t be that hard to create such an application. If we don’t get a simple tool that can do this soon, we may literally start losing our minds.

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7 Responses to I’d Like to Keep My Memory All In One Place

  1. visit http://manyworlds.com site. The Epiture technology is adaptive with respect to remembering plus other features your readers might find useful. What you want exists; and it’s coming.

  2. mattbg says:

    It sounds similar to what Microsoft is trying to do with MyLifeBits ( http://research.microsoft.com/barc/mediapresence/MyLifeBits.aspx ), although that’s been in-the-works for quite some time, and I don’t see any mention of capturing web-based output.

  3. Daniel says:

    why do you think trackbacks didn´t succeed?

  4. Daniel says:

    cocomment looks good (I do not see how manyworls works for this) but I think it is a bit complicatedwouldn´t it be simpler to search google (or google blogsearch or icerocket,etc) for your name (Daniel won´t do it, but chosing a real special one or adding some code to your text)?do you receive alerts from cocoment when new comments are added?

  5. moon says:

    i agree with you! a need for such a route map is highly important. i am going to try to follow what others has posted as alternative solution.

  6. Steph says:

    Have you checked out http://suprglu.com ? It allows you to display feeds from all your stuff in one page. It’s not perfect (still a bit slow) but I quite like it.

  7. tonebbs says:

    why do you think trackbacks didn´t succeed?

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