Personal Blogs are the Public Life Bits

A few months ago I wrote about “Memories for Life“, a proposal for a Grand Challenge in computer science. The aim of that Grand Challenge was to find ways to store, index and secure our digital memories, i.e. the digital trail that we’re constantly building in the form of digital photos, email correspondence, browsing history, etc. Microsoft calls this MyLifeBits, but I find David Gelernter’s term, Information Beam, even more descriptive.

One of the issues addressed in the proposal are the access privileges to our memories. Who should be allowed to access our memories and how do we control the access. Some memories we want to share. Let’s use photo albums as an example. Some of our photos we want to (or at least are ok with) sharing with everybody, others we might want to allow the family to access and others might be even more private.

I just realized that there is already a tool that allows us to manage our public memories: Personal blogs. With additions to the basic blog functionality, notably mobile blogging, it is actually quite good as such a tool.

Interestingly enough, personal blogs not only include bits and pieces of the blogger’s digital memories such as photos, interesting links from the blogger’s browsing history and occasionally a snip from email or instant messaging conversations with others. They also include accounts of various activities and the blogger’s ideas and thoughts about various things, something that is otherwise usually not recorded in a digital form.

So recording the memories is not a passive thing, but an act, a decision: this is a memory I want to record and share (although most people are maybe a little less philosophical in their decision making). Mobile blogging allows people to do this in real time from anywhere. I guess that when mobile text input improves, text entries from mobile users will become more common, but with the cumbersome text input today, photo blogging is by far the most popular mobile blogging activity: Snap a picture, post it to the blog, done.

The blog then gives family and friends an opportunity to get a glimpse of the blogger’s life unlike any they would ever get otherwise. What you put on your blog, is probably just about the level of memories that you want to allow public access to. It will always be an active decision to make a part of your information beam public, and blogging makes that decision relatively simple.

Some people have taken this even further and closer to the information beam thinking. I know bloggers that have put their blogs or parts of their blogs behind a login that they only give to a certain group of people as they don’t want everybody to be able to access their memories. Personally I even tried at one point to use a blog for my notes, but found it too limiting to be useful for that. I guess that one day blogging systems might become powerful enough to be the index we actively make for our information beam, but I’m not sure if that is where the blog system makers see themselves going.

So while some people find personal blogs stupid and “hate them”, I think they are a part of the evolution towards systems where we better document our lives publicly and privately.