Lifebrowser Provides Personal Timeline of Our Digital Footprint

Lifebrowser Provides Personal Timeline of Our Digital Footprint

Photos, pictures, emails, search history; everything we've done online now available for us to see in graphic format.

Data-mining, or the process or recording, analyzing, and selling information about consumers behaviors online, has been big business for search engine companies. In fact, it’s reached a the kind of levels that is now drawing some negative public feedback regarding privacy and prompting the government to pass guidelines for internet companies tracking such information. Some of that backlash may be the result of online users not knowing exactly what has been tracked, and what those companies are seeing. For that, Microsoft has recently developed Lifebrowser, an interface for you to look at your own internet imprint and locate landmark events in everything from browsing history to online photos, purchases, and emails.

The sheer amounts of personal digital data that we create, even in the short time that the internet has been available, makes it almost impossible for people to manage their online footprint. “The motivation behind Lifebrowser is that we have too much stuff going on in our personal digital spheres," says Eric Horvitz, Lifebrowser creator, told Technology review, "We were interested in making local machines private data-mining centers [that are] very smart about you and your memory so that you can better navigate through that great amount of content."

The timeline looks like a simplified, less glossy version of the Facebook Timeline, but it doesn’t require the user to create it. Upon command, Lifebrowser automatically generates the timeline using the user’s entire online footprint. However, when the program compiles all of the search histories, emails, photos, and other content, it uses artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to determine which pieces of content indicate a landmark within our person internet history. In addition, the user can use a “volume control” button that increases or decreases the significance of those landmarks, emphasizing only the most important few events and content or lowering it to include more and more of the “landmark” events.

An example provided by Horvitz includes a simple search of a person’s name. That search yields the first email from that person, as well as photos posted “somewhere” online including the person from relatively the same time period. In this way Lifebrowser literally creates a timeline around a particular users online content from the “beginning”. Lifebrowser is not yet available commercially, and is still a primary product for Microsoft Research. Horvitz sees its application in the future as a personal management tool for monitoring privacy and what can actually be “mined” by data-programs for advertising companies. In the meantime it sounds like a great way to take a nostalgic trip down memory lane.