November 20, 2002
Lifestreams, Microsoft, and Aggregators

Every so often I go back and try to wrap my brain more tightly around the concept of Lifestreams.

We contend that managing one's own electronic world can be a frustrating task for most computer users, requiring too many separate applications, too many file transfers and format translations, the invention of too many pointless names and the construction of organizational hierarchies that too quickly become obsolete. What is needed is a metaphor and system for organizing the electronic ``bits of paper'' we all so easily collect, whether we create them ourselves or they come to us in the form of email, downloaded images, web pages, or scheduling reminders. Lifestreams is such a system.

Lifestreams uses a simple organizational metaphor, a time-ordered stream of documents, to replace conventional files and directories [3,4]. Stream filters and software agents are used to organize, locate, summarize and monitor incoming information. Lifestreams subsumes many separate desktop applications to accomplish the most common communication, scheduling, and search and retrieval tasks; yet its machine-independent, client-server architecture is open so that users can continue to use the document types, and viewers & editors they are accustomed to.

A lifestream is a time-ordered stream of documents that functions as a diary of your electronic life; every document you create is stored in your lifestream, as are the documents other people send you. The tail of your stream contains documents from the past, perhaps starting with your electronic birth certificate. Moving away from the tail and toward the present, your stream contains more recent documents such as papers in progress or the latest electronic mail you've received---other documents, such as pictures, correspondence, bills, movies, voice mail and software are stored in between. Moving beyond the present and into the future, the stream contains documents you will need: reminders, your calendar items, and to-do lists.

This idea seems right in so many ways, but we haven't gotten near making it a reality yet. Now Microsoft wants to get in on the action:

Engineers are working on software to load every photo you take, every letter you write - in fact your every memory and experience - into a surrogate brain that never forgets anything, New Scientist can reveal

It is part of a curious venture dubbed the MyLifeBits project, in which engineers at Microsoft's Media Presence lab in San Francisco are aiming to build multimedia databases that chronicle people's life events and make them searchable. "Imagine being able to run a Google-like search on your life," says Gordon Bell, one of the developers.

News Aggregators could get in on this also with a few properly placed advances in the tech.

  1. We need to snap out of the idea that aggregators are only for news, they can also be lists of the latest mp3s you've downloaded or orders placed on your e-store.
  2. I shouldn't have to go get feeds, feeds should come to me. When I launch my aggregator it should ping the feeds it is subscribed to telling them that it is listening. Then, when a feed generates something new it should nearly instantly tell my aggregator. Besides the effects of making aggregation a real-time task this also would greatly reduce bandwidth. You'd only be downloading the new item, not the whole feed, only when it was updated.
  3. Applications need to generate these feeds for events that take place, like receiving an IM or new mail in your inbox or a friend visiting your website.

This can all be accomplished with the existing technology, xml-rpc seems the logical choice for communication between applications (either web or local) and aggregators. Yea yea, I know I should get off my ass and do it myself but I can't make application authors implement it unless I stir up some interest so thats what I'm doing right now. Posted by adam at November 20, 2002 11:36 PM