It's very Buddhist of the real-time social networks to design our experiences in the now. What are you doing? What are you reading? What are you seeing? Where are you at? Who are you with? What are you wearing? All of these are questions we can easily answer. I can tell you that I'm working from my home office, writing a post on the real-time, wearing my skinny grey jeans and my favorite sweater and I'm sitting alone, although I just finished a podcast with the awesome Heathervescent. That's easy. But ask me about what I was wearing/doing/seeing/etc three weeks ago? Not so easy. There is a whole lot of page scrolling involved in that task. I do actually spend most of my time in the present - some of it planning for the future - but more and more frequently, I'm becoming quite irritated with the inability to see my past. Even my recent past. When people tell me that Facebook and Twitter is all we need (they cover the present quite nicely), I have to disagree. They are platforms for the now and, even if it's a less frequent need, I find myself needing to access the history quite often.

For instance:

  • What was the name/location of that awesome place I lunched with Emma Persky at again? Oh yeah, Pecan. Foursquare is pretty good at history.
  • Did I introduce Ethan and Umair like I meant to? Yep. Hashable has me covered.
  • What did I make my awesome friend Bryan Thatcher when I stayed with him in NYC? Oh yeah, French Toast. Foodspotting keeps that record.
  • When did I travel to Phoenix last? End of October, 2010. Thanks Tripit!

And these may seem trite and unimportant, but there are many practical reasons why I need to remember. Number one, I'm getting old and the memory isn't *quite* what it used to be. Besides, I travel quite a bit, meet quite a few people and switch gears many times over just a matter of weeks. My real-time life necessitates a temporary erasure of my near-time history in order to just know where I am and what I'm doing today! And yes, I am a bit of an exception to the rule, but it just means I need my history a bit more frequently than most.

But more practically, remembering who I met when and where we were is incredibly useful information. So is what I bought when and for what purposes. Where I traveled, which event I attended, what I read and when, even what I wore (for purposes of not duplicating that same outfit too many times in the same company)...all useful. Practically speaking, I've used some of this information for tax purposes. I've used some of this information for giving advice to others (where to eat, what to eat) and for planning my own upcoming trips and outings. I've dug back into many pages of history to recall when I met someone and how I met someone so that I could properly pick up our conversation.

And the biggest advantage of having an easy-to-access history is the ability to visualize it and get a sense of the Taste Trail I'm leaving behind. WhereDoYouGo is an awesome mashup of Foursquare checkins and Google Maps that can give me a snapshot of the areas of whichever city I have hung out in. In Montreal, I stick close to home. In New York, I stick South of Central Park and have only hit Williamsburg and Park Slope in Brooklyn. In Paris, I get around quite a bit. I find this fascinating. It tells me a bit about who I am, but also where I need to go to get out of my comfort zones. I think it would also be fascinating for, say, a Realtor who I approach to find me a place to live, or for businesses looking to open a location to serve people like me. I'd share it if it enhanced my life, too.

Lots of people talk about the impact of the real-time web and how it benefits businesses as well as serendipity - and it does! - but history is also chock full of relevant and powerful information. The power of the new breed of startups that are emerging right now isn't just that they are niche (food, shopping, location, connections), but that they are also aware of the impact of historical data and how that will drive future decisions, connections and experiences. I think we are just scratching the surface on how this data will work to enhance our lives as individuals and businesses.

In order for all of this to work, though, it needs to work together. Although Twitter and Facebook connect allow for this data to move in and out of their platforms, our Taste Trails are still fragmented. Some companies, like Hashable and Runkeeper, are doing a good job of tying in other verticals (Foursquare, for instance), but rather than pushing each one of these companies to work with a myriad of APIs, shouldn't we be thinking of how we could make the data flow more easily? Thor Muller, years ago, talked about the future of ScrAPIs in relation to the web. Why not have data marked up properly so that it can travel in an easily standardized way? This is definitely the call of Microformats. A couple of years ago, while working with the now pivoted Strands, Chris Messina and I came up with the idea of hTaste - a microformat for marking up preference data that could travel between sites, snowballing into a really fantastic overall measure of our Taste DNA. I think it was just ahead of it's time.

I'm no technologist (man, I wish I were), but this stuff really gets me going. Living in the present is necessary and awesome, but as I'm doing so, I'm creating a rich history that could help unlock an even richer, personalized future. I'm looking forward to being part of creating that outcome.

7 Comments