Last night I went to a presentation by Gordon Bell at PARC. The topic of the presentation was a project called MyLifeBits, which aims to be an implementation of the Memex system originally conceived by Vannevar Bush decades ago. It certainly seems like an interesting project, despite being run under the Microsoft Research umbrella. It actually sounds like a project I was involved in a number of years ago. The project we worked on didn’t make it very far. It was just too ambitious for the resources we had, and I don’t think the team did a good job of understanding the direction the founder had (myself included). Seeing a project like this starting to take form has made me review some of the stuff we worked on. A lot of new technologies for funneling data into the system, like cheap digital cameras and GPS for location info, have changed certain aspects of the system in favor of easy use. But a lot of the issues we ran into, like rapid and reliable organization and searching methods, still seem to remain.
I also just started to rethink the way I use my computer myself. I really do live through my computer, I do just about everthing with it. But I really don’t do all that much that “normal people” do. I’m a hacker, so I do a lot of emailing, online discussion and collaboration, downloading source and patching, and all sorts of dweeb stuff. The closest thing to normal human activity that I do is keeping my contacts and calendar in order with my PDA. And even that probably isn’t all that normal, PDAs have very small penetration.
But just yesterday I started talking to someone about working on a few more normal human applications. And I have to admit that I am starting to get interested. It used to be that I avoided user applications and really just wanted to play around in the guts of systems. But my recent interest in online collaboration, mobile computing, and web services have drawn me much more into this area. It may be time to dip back into some apps like this, especially if we can come up with some really interesting and innovative usage patterns that need to be supported and then find good solutions for them.