Personal Life Annotation Devices
By Justin Hall, Sat Aug 23 15:45:00 GMT 2003

Forecasting the use of cameras in mobile phones by examining weblogging in Poland.

The Speechure - the text of my remarks before TheFeature panel, annotated with mostly relevant links.

It's hard to overestimate the impact of cameras in mobile phones. They are going to change not only the way we interact with our devices, but the way we interact with our governments, our pop stars, strangers and our most intimate relations.

One way to study the potential impact of mobile phone cameras is to examine the phenomenon of weblogging. Weblogs are a simple way to maintain a personal media archive on the internet. Weblogs let you easily post to the web short or long entries about your favorite foods, your comings and goings, the contents of your CD player, a list of your other friends with web pages. Weblogs are mostly text, with links to other web sites.

Recent statistics out of Poland suggest that weblogs are most popular amongst teenage girls. Teenaged girls were the strong underpinning of Japan's pioneering I-Mode service, a fantastic success making mobile services invaluable to people with relationships. Weblogs are a geeky way to let people know about your friends and your tastes.

Admittedly, weblogs are only popular with a very small portion of the literate, computer-bound world. Most people don't spend that much time annotating their time online with links and paragraphs.

Back to camera phones. Camera phones grow increasingly popular in each country where they are offered. With citizens carrying cameras, the chance for a snapshot will loom large with every occasion. There should be a massive explosion in citizen photography.

As people begin snapping away around the world, it's not going to be long before they want to share their photographs online. I have a camera phone. I take a picture. I can then press about six or eight buttons and email that picture to myself. Then I can save that picture on my hard drive and upload it to my web site, and finally type some codes in to make it display. How about if I take a picture with my phone and if I agree that it turned out good, I can instantly publish it online? I don't want to carry my pictures around in my phone - I'm not interested in only showing them to people I see in the street. What if I lose this device, or upgrade?

Each phone will become the root of each persons weblog. Or in this case, a mo-blog. A mobile weblog. This idea has been around for years now; some enterprising people have been using phones with cameras to publish online since January of 2001. The first international conference on Moblogging happened in Tokyo last month. There, I saw Mie from TokyoTidbits was publishing pictures from her KDDI phone. Each picture was encoded with the longitude and latitude of the place she had taken it, using a GPS system embedded in the device. For certain pictures on her web site, you could click a little location button next to the picture, and you'd see a map of Tokyo come up, with a star marking the place she'd taken that picture.

It's not hard to imagine the power of millions of people each taking pictures and attaching them to physical places. You're headed into Helsinki, and you want to see what the Esplanade looks like in mid-August. Or you wonder what the inside of the Intercontinental hotel looks like.

There's immense potential for people to keep each other informed, or perhaps, misinformed. We all know the power of a picture to over-select, to crop, to be too specific and miss context important to other people on the scene. Now that potential is being democratized.

Today, public cameras are mostly anchored in specific locations. We know when we enter a bank, we're being filmed. Even in the mall, it's likely we're being watched by security cameras. We may not like it, but most of us have learned to ignore it, to carry on under the watchful lens.

The other public cameras to date have been carried by the media. Someone with a large box on their shoulder and a sticker on their sleeve saying Channel 9 is obviously doing a job. You can argue about whether or not they're doing a good job, but either way, they are a part of an institution that has some accountability.

Now cameras are all around us. First it was video cameras, but these were easy enough to spot. But now videocameras have shrunk down to fit into a phone. It's hard to tell whether someone is texting or taking a picture of cool shoes. Sure we can keep a watchful eye, or listen closely for those fake shutter sounds. But in reality, over the next few years, we will have to come to expect that there will be cameras all around us and they might be taking our picture.

We can rest assured in the fact that there will be millions of pictures, and so our pictures are most likely to be viewed by people that like us. Most people won't worry about whether they are being caught doing something. They will be taking pictures of their friends and sending them around to each other. Hey look - I'm traveling in the next town over. They have beer here too!

People want to share media with their friends and family. Society will be reeling from the fringes. Someone will get rich from all the traffic. We will change, as we paddle neck-deep in snapshots. We will remain the same - interested in food, sex, shelter, relationships.

The idea of a personal web page is already a decade old. But it was an exception, in a way - people don't want to sit down at a computer and type out their thoughts and describe their experiences. If they can carry a small box that records select experiences and shares those instead, well then we're much more likely to see the advent of the day when most everyone you know has an active personal web site. The web will be with us at all times and we will be constantly contributing something to it.

Justin Hall is an Oakland, California-based journalist. His writings can be found online at