"What are you doing right now?" Facebook asked its users in 2007.
The social network, and its peers, have since become less dedicated to the present moment. Facebook has created Timeline, a historic presentation of daily posts. Foursquare has turned its vault of real-time check-ins into a valuable recommendation engine. And Twitter recently launched a feature that allows users to download their tweet archives. For the first time, social media platforms are looking back.
By facilitating constant, real-time conversation, these platforms inevitably created a detailed log of the past. As a habit of sharing and an emerging quantified-self movement merge, the potential to recycle our real-time content grows.
The next big thing, some entrepreneurs believe, will leverage not "right now," but "then." Here’s why:
Siqi Chen is building an instant diary. His product, which is still in stealth mode, uses your social media history and data from your mobile device, like location coordinates, to document your life.
Its success depends upon a funny thing that happens to the value of a memory. "It tends to drop fairly quickly," explains Nabeel Hyatt, a Venture Partner at Spark Capital who invested in the startup. "So a month from now I might not care about that photo [I shared] at all. But then it rises back up again. A year from now, two years from now, 10 years from now…That person might have become my best friend in the world, that person may have become my lover or my wife. The history of that person becomes even more interesting as time goes on."
Hyatt is also an investor in Timehop, which takes advantage of the same value curve by sending users a daily digest of their social media activity from one year before. With other players like Memolane and Everyday.me also digging into the social media past for nostalgia purposes, the concept is quickly becoming a category.
Future applications of your social media history could be more practical. "It’s kind of what a calculator is for math, this is for your memory," Hyatt says. "There isn’t one or two products there, I think there’s a whole category of products that will use the data exhaust we are all generating to help us in our day-to-day lives."
"Have I been here before?" "How did I meet you?" and "What songs did I listen to in 2013?" are all questions that content we’re creating now might help us answer later.
The 85 apps that integrate with RunKeeper's HealthGraph, for instance, together track your daily workouts, nutrition, strength training regimen, and sleep patterns. But the platform's real potential value comes from using that history to serve as a personal health coach. "Based on the information it collects, your phone will lay out a plan to help you live a healthier life," RunKeeper Founder Jason Jacobs wrote in an article for GigaOm last year. "It will notify you when it’s time for an activity (i.e., taking a pill, going on a walk, or taking your blood pressure), and adjust this plan as you go, based on what is and isn’t working."
Health isn't the only category for which a history of daily data input can be helpful. An app called Saga tracks how you spend your time so that you can later learn to be more efficient. Mint.com logs every swipe of your credit card to help you budget better in the future. The quantified-self movement gives people an excuse to log data in real-time just like social media gives them an excuse to create an accidental diary.
This is the first time in history such a vivid real-time record of individual lives has existed, and we’ve only just started to explore its potential.
[Image: Flickr user Liz]