Storyboard Your Life

I just discovered this post by Avi Solomon and I’m blown away. This echoes my thoughts remarkably on my post about A Record of My Life. Here’s a quote from his post.

A storyboard is an apt metaphor for how we make sense of our own life history. Storyboarding can be used to sense emergent patterns in our own life story and to envision the life experiences that we wish to welcome into our future.

What I didn’t go into detail on this post about but what I have talked with others about, such as Anthony Casalena of Squarespace, is the need for a blog display format that allows you to achieve this storyboard. In effect, when you pan back to this “orbit view” that Avi talks about, what you are doing is filtering your view based upon your life’s key moments what I called my “transitional moments” which are those moments in your life where a major change or transition occurred within it. Anyways, attached below is my email I sent to Anthony about this blog display format back on September 29, 2005.

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Anthony,

Blog Content Display Views Are Crap

For example, if you got a chance to look at the Project Comet demonstration, then you’d see that no matter which view you looked at the site content with, they all looked pretty much the same. Either you saw little mini-streams of “what I’m reading” on the sidebar (with little book thumbnails to represent them) or you saw an endless scrolling views of blog posts, either from a single person or from multiple people. I can describe one word for this display format. Crap!  🙂

Record of Your Life

You see Six Apart themselves reminded me of the problem and potential solution when they said that they wanted Project Comet to be like a “record of your life”. When I heard this I visualized something amazing but Project Comet didn’t even look anything like it. Even Dave Winer himself of Scripting News reminds us of this “record of your life” fact when he talks about what he wrote about a year or so ago in his blog. And here in lies the issue, if our blogs or journals are a record of our life, then why aren’t we taking advantage of them (like Dave Winer appears to do)? The obvious answer to me was because they aren’t formatted to take advantage of this recorded information.

Everything Just Focused On The Here And Now

This is why I said at the start of this email that I wanted our recorded thoughts to be not only “useful to us now” but also “useful to us later”. Right now, if you look at most blogs. The emphasis is primarily on what that person is thinking right this moment. You see their current thoughts posted in the main content area with a listing on the side of their recent ten thoughts as well as recent movies, books, music, whatever. Everything you are looking at is focused on the here and now. Yes of course people have archives as well but it is how these archives are displayed (or not in this case) in relation to the current content that is the problem.

No Feeling of Accumulation

You see THE single most frustrating thing I find about blog journals is that there is no feeling of accumulation or buildup in a sense of learning from the past. Instead it just seems like people are talking over and over again in some endless loop about a certain topic. What I’m looking for is a way for me to look at my content now in relation to where I’ve been and to where I’m going. For example, when I talk about culture in my journal, it is focused on the hope and the desire that we as a society will eventually shift away from our current negative cultural focus to a more positive one. A lot of this has to do with the way businesses work and how I believe they work against people’s common cultural values (i.e. open, honest, truthful, etc). Yet the problem with my journal is that I can’t easily say look at all of these culture posts from “a thousand feet up” to survey what I’ve spoken about and where I’m heading with the topic. The best I can do right now though with blogging software is wade into this stream at “ground level” and trudge through it thought by thought because no one has figured out a way to look at an accumulation of thoughts from a distance and still retain their meaning.

Your Life/Journal Timeline

Well I think I may have stumbled upon a way to do this (although I’m not 100%) and I’m already in the process of doing up some Photoshop mockups of what I have in mind. What’s the potential solution? From an idea standpoint (not technologically speaking), imagine a timeline that you can slide along in, zoom in and out of, and even filter by specific thought stream. So a typical weblog of today might be the timeline set for “today”, with the zoom set to almost “maximum”, and the stream filter set to “all”. And let say that each of these zoom views changes the amount of information displayed based upon how far you zoom out. So at maximum zoom, you get the full details of everything you are pointing at (because you’re up close). While at minimum zoom (almost looking at your entire life in one scoop), you see only the key elements that defined your life with extremely brief descriptions to accompany them. Again let me emphasize, I’m not talking technologically here but from a general idea standpoint. This isn’t any fancy Flash application.

Your Music Timeline: By Day & Month

Ok to some examples. Imagine you’re looking at your journal and you switch your stream filter to say “music”. Immediately we see just my latest posts that relate to music. Ok, pretty normal with regards to today’s blogs but what if we zoom out and change the setting from just viewing a day to instead viewing a month, year, decade, or even life? What would you see then? Wouldn’t you start seeing patterns and changes in your taste of music? Zoomed into the “month” of September, you see the days of the month as horizontal bars stack one below the other (i.e. 1, 2, 3, etc) but you only see those days where you added music to your journal. In addition, you also see the rating of the music and a brief excerpt of your review of it (if you had it).

Your Music Timeline: By Year

Now if you zoom out to the “year” view what happens? Ok, now we see all of 2005 with each month being a horizontal bar stacked one below the other (i.e. Jan, Feb, Mar, etc) with only those months where you added music being show (which may be every month). For each horizontal month bar, we see a row of album covers for that month, sorted with the most popular album on the left and the least on the right, with a maximum of 5 or 10 albums shown. So by looking at the 2005 view we see our most favorite, interesting, and meaningful music of 2005 for you.

Your Music Timeline: By Decade

Ok now we zoom out to the “decade” view. Now we see all of the 2000’s, from 2000 up until 2005. Each year now is represented by a horizontal bar (i.e. 2000, 2001, 2002, etc) stacked one under the other. Upon each bar we just see thumbnails of the albums of again say of our top five or ten rated albums for that year with only the album name shown with it.

Your Music Timeline: By Life

And finally if we zoom out to the “life” view, we see our entire life broken down into decades. Again each decade is represented by a horizontal bar (i.e. 1970, 1980, 1990, etc) stacked one under the other. Upon each bar we just see our top rated music for that decade with its rating. In effect, we are probably seeing the music that literally c
hanged our lives at key transitional moments in it (i.e. Pink Floyd).

Imagining Other Filtered Timelines

Ok so now that we’ve seen what a music timeline can be represented, what about other thought streams? For example, what if you recorded in your journal descriptions of the various jobs you are working at, as you make the transition into them? By switching various views wouldn’t we almost get a resume of our work experience? What about photos? Wouldn’t by switching out to the “life” view, we would see a collection of thumbnail photos in each decade that basically represented the key transitions in our life (i.e. assuming we rated photos not just by how they looked but how meaningful they were to us)? If we were younger when we first started blogging, wouldn’t we see photos of our first date, first car, first home, getting married, notable vacations, notable jobs, etc? What about if we focused just on a thought stream like my one on culture? Well if I zoom out to a “month” or “year” view then what I’ll see is my top five or ten rated posts (by title with small excerpt) that were my key defining and transitional moments in my stream of thought. By looking at this view, I can see the “waypoints” in my thought of where I’ve been and also project forward to see where I would like to go.

Project Management, To Do’s, & Reminders

Now another thing you’ll need to realize is that you don’t need to be using this system for long to take advantage of the year or decade view even. I mean look at people using Flickr. When they post photos, they can manually set when the photos was taken. So even though you are adding it today, it can be an old photo that you took years ago. You can still add it to the timeline at the point it was taken. Of course, you can do the opposite as well. Why not define posts to the future? What if I’m working on a project and I want to set waypoints or milestones for the project that I’ve defined as a stream? If you can post to the future, then you can do this. When you view your journal though, it’s focus still comes up to the current day though. But imagine if you had a future post reminder for the upcoming Web 2.0 conference? Not only could that post remind you of the conference but after you’ve been to the conference you could turn that post into a full description of the event itself. What about a future vacation reminder? Same thing. After the event, you can fill the post with what happened during the vacation or create a followup post instead that talks about it.

Summary

Ok I think you’ve probably fallen asleep by now, so I’ll wrap it up here. If you do want to see a Flash application that makes use of a timeline approach, check out the Classic Motown Timeline below.

http://classic.motown.com/timeline/

That’s it for now. When I get my mockups done, I’ll probably be putting them up on my site. I’ll let you know when they are there.

Nollind

PS. BTW I was just reminded of Dave Winer’s constant checking of his archives for interesting tidbits again. You could probably even add that to your sidebar somehow to show what you were listening to, reading, and watching a year ago, not too mention your general thoughts at the time. Kind of like a This Day in History which you show highly rated items on this day from various years in the past.

Oh ya, that was another interest idea I had. Some streams themselves are not always constant. For example, I used to be heavily into computer gaming but right now I’m not actively discussing it. It would be kind of interesting if you could zoom out to at least a month or year view and see the activities of those streams! Even more so, why not show only the most active streams in your sidebar (with a link to the full listing on another page). Hell you could even go back a year and see what thought streams you were discussing the most at that particular point in time, showing your evolution of interests over time.

3 thoughts on “Storyboard Your Life

  1. I LOVE LOVE LOVE your timeline format –what is it generated from? Is there any way I could have, buy, or find similar engine to add my own content.
    I’ve been trying to find something just for personal use, a personal storyboard timeline, and this looks awesome.
    Thanks!
    _leif

  2. Leif, I haven’t see anyone use this format yet (it’s still just a concept idea at this stage). The closest I’ve seen it done is with Our Story but their approach is still a ways off from what I’d like to see.

  3. Oh, if you’re wondering who created that Flash timeline Leif, it was created by Kioken. You can read a backgrounder on how they created it within this article at Communication Arts.

    I was just using it as an example of a dynamic timeline but the one I’m envisioning would probably be done with AJAX instead so that the page updates dynamically when you adjust the timeline scope, i.e. day, month, year, decade, life.

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