Social media's lifelogging now a Saga worth telling

Way back in 2009, I told you about the future of lifelogging -- the ambient, persistent and automatic recording of your everyday life.

At the time, the idea was one of those science-fiction-like notions that would come into being sometime in the future -- when lifelogging would be something that happened in the background while you commuted to your glass-dome office via jet pack.

Well, I'm back to talk about lifelogging. Except now it's real. More than that. It can also be free and easy.

Saga lifelogging

A company called A.R.O. this week shipped a new iOS and Android lifelogging app called Saga.

Saga creates a page for each location where you spend time.

Saga, which is available free of charge, is designed for easy, natural and unobtrusive recording of everywhere you go and everything you do.

The app uses sensors in your phone to record your location. It figures out when you're traveling (on what roads and how fast) and when you're at your destination. If you confirm the location (yes, I'm at Peet's Coffee & Tea on Wired Street), you can then tap a "Note" button to record any information you want to be associated with that location and time ("Drank too much coffee and ate a muffin. Ran into Phil Jones, who just got a dog named Sparkles.")

A second button is called "Snaps." Once you tap it, the app takes four pictures, each with a quick timer that counts down to the capture. It takes just a few seconds to wave your phone around to capture four different views of your experience, which will be associated with the location. The photo feature is not designed for you to take award-winning pictures gussied up with Instagram and shared with your Facebook friends. It's optimized for a quick-and-dirty capturing of your perspective in order to jog your memory later on.

The third button is called "Share." This lets you save or share your location details on whatever apps you have installed on your phone -- in my case, they are Google Drive, Evernote, Google+, Dropbox, Gmail and Google Keep -- or to copy them to the clipboard.

When you use the Share feature, it asks if you want to take the action "Always" or "Just once." If you choose Always, it will share or save your location (just the location, not the note or picture) automatically every time you're there.

This enables you to use Saga not only for automatic or manual check-ins, but also for lifelogging or lifestreaming on Google+.

The end product of Saga is a diary, or what the company calls a "beautiful log" -- a record of everywhere you went and everything you did. It shows your past in a scrolling series of summaries (with tiny thumbnails of your pictures), so you can easily go back in time for total recall -- literally photographic memory -- about your life.

Yes, you can opt out by turning off the capture feature, closing the app or deleting locations already captured.

Secondarily, it lets you examine your life. For example, it tells you how much time you spend "in transit" each week, or how many times you've been to each location. This can have practical applications. It could, for example, motivate you to change your habits: "You've been to Dunkin' Donuts six times this week!" Ugh!

A.R.O. emphasizes three qualities that make Saga unique. First, it never stops talking about Saga's battery life optimization, saying the app is extremely frugal with your juice. Second, it emphasizes visual interface design. And third, it emphasizes privacy.

Saga lets you share, but it's not another "Look at me and my wonderful life!" app. The Saga lifelog is just for you.

Memoto lifelogging

When I told you about Lifelogging more than three years ago, I started by talking about Microsoft's Gordon Bell, a computer pioneer and dedicated lifelogger.

If you check Bell's Wikipedia page, you'll see a camera hanging around his neck.

That's a lifelogging camera that constantly takes pictures to photographically augment the detailed and automated lifelog that Bell maintains.

I've been tracking Bell's lifelogging project for a long time. Years ago, it all seemed extreme, unlikely and difficult. Today, you can do what Bell does by simply buying a $279 consumer gadget called the Memoto, from a company of the same name.

The Memoto is a tiny plastic device you click on your shirt. It includes a 5-megapixel camera, GPS, an ARM processor running Linux, an accelerometer, a magnetometer and more. What it doesn't have are buttons of any kind. It takes a picture every 30 seconds for as long as the rechargeable battery lasts, which is about two days, according to the vendor.

When you plug the Memoto device into your computer via USB, the pictures are uploaded to Memoto's servers and are processed into "moments" -- it figures out by looking at the colors in the pictures which photos were taken in the same location. It can also determine the "boring" parts of your day -- say, the 36 pictures snapped of you filling out the cover sheet on your TPS report -- and by default ignores them. You can then use Memoto's service to scroll through the nonboring moments of your life. (Note: The company charges a monthly fee for that service.)

I told you about the Memoto last year. At the time, it was just a Kickstarter project, which means it had some chance of one day becoming a real product. Since then, the company raised 10 times its goal, exceeding a half-million dollars in crowdsourced funding.

According to Memoto, it's on the brink of shipping the product -- its website is not only taking pre-orders, it's even offering a special Mother's Day deal.

Google Glass lifelogging

If you're really into lifelogging, you could use Saga and Memoto together. Or you could wait a while and use Google Glass.

I have the feeling that Google's smart specs are going to be the ultimate hardware for lifelogging.

Unlike Saga or Memoto, Glass will always capture pictures as you see them from an eyeball level view. If you look at pictures and videos taken with Glass, you'll notice that they look like actual memories because they're taken in situations that happen spontaneously and always from the user's eye level.

In addition to offering the eye-level view, Glass has the benefit of enabling you to easily choose when to snap photos to capture your memories. This will be possible with a swipe on the side of the glass, with a voice command or even with a blink of the eye, according to reports.

And Google Glass is a platform. That means companies like A.R.O., Memoto and others can create lifelogging apps especially for Glass.

We're going to be hearing a lot about developing apps for Google Glass because Google's annual developers conference, Google I/O, takes place next week.

Why lifelogging?

As privacy-invading technologies in general, and location-aware applications in particular, become commonplace and accepted (and they will) and as products like Saga, Memoto and Glass become ubiquitous, the idea of lifelogging will become more appealing.

Why lifelog? Ultimately, the best reason is that good memories are pleasurable and lifelogging improves them.

My kids are young adults now. I have noticed over the years that the memories we all have of their childhoods are mostly from the photos we took. By looking at the pictures now and then, we reinforce those memories. The unphotographed moments tend to fade away.

Lifelogging will enrich our lives by enhancing, augmenting and detailing our real-life memories.

This article, "Lifelogging Gets Real," was originally published on Computerworld.com.

Mike Elgan writes about technology and tech culture. You can contact Mike and learn more about him on Google+. You can also see more articles by Mike Elgan on Computerworld.com.

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