Digital Object Memories
I recently was involved in organising a workshop on Digital Object Memories in the Internet of Things. Unfortunately I was unable to attend myself, but the position statements, technical papers, and design studies are interesting enough (available online).
At the workshop participants created memories for objects they had brought to the workshop - by linking 'video memories', photos or text documents to these objects using QR codes. Memories created during the workshop are available at the Tales of Things website.
The notion of object memories of course is not new. In his book Shaping Things Bruce Sterling elaborates his SPIME concept: "A SPIME is, by definition, the protagonist of a documented process. It is an historical entity with an accessible, precise trajectory through space and time." Information shadow is another term for essentially the same concept (for example described by Adam Greenfield in his book Everyware and related to Alan Westin's "data shadows" concept - hat tip to Mike Kuniavsky and his book Smart Things: Ubiquitous Computing User Experience Design.)
Digital Object Memories comprise hardware and software components that physically and/or conceptually associate digital information with real-world objects in an application-independent manner. Such information can take many different forms (structured data and documents, pictures, audio/video streams, etc.) and originate from a variety of sources (automated processes, sensors in the environment, users, etc.). If constantly updated, Digital Object Memories over time provide a meaningful record of an object's history and use.
From a technical point of view, Digital Object Memories provide an open-loop infrastructure for the exchange of object-related information across application and environment boundaries. Besides fostering information reuse and reducing the risk of information inconsistencies, they allow for novel classes of applications in which rich object histories are created and exploited.
From the user's point of view, Digital Object Memories create a new design space for everyday interactions. Physical objects could become sites for their owners' personal stories, but also afford people the opportunity to explore an object's provenance and connections to other elements of physical and digital life. In this sense there is the potential for designers to augment or even transform our relationship with objects and the services that they mediate.
Tales of Things, an experimental website for people to upload object memories, is an attempt to realise the object memory notion and make it available to everyone. It will be interesting to see if sites like Tales of Things will one day become as popular as photo albums were years ago.