Spimes, Blogjects, And Other Buzzwords: A Primer

Spime is a pretty stupid sounding word (like most neologisms), but it describes an increasingly important concept – they are objects that can be digitally tracked through their entire life-cycle. There’s a little more to them than that, because the man that coined the term, Bruce Sterling, is a big techno-hippy, and felt the need to include ideas about their manufacturing process and some notions about recycling in there too. I’m reasonably sure that given time and usage, that part will fall away (and to be honest, since I am also a big techno-hippy, I’ll be sad about that) and we’ll be left with the specifically useful definition, of an object that generates a data cloud than can then be accessed by other objects.

To make the example more concrete, I’ll quote from the Wikipedia entry for spime – in a near future spimeworld, where your house has a Star Trek style voice activated computer, and all your possession are spimes, instead of spending a fruitless twenty minutes searching for your shoes in the morning, you will simply be able to say “Where are my shoes?” out loud and Majel Barrett will respond “Your shoes are under the bed”, because your household computer will be able to track the datacloud generated by your shoes and your bed, and combine it with in house mapping systems to work out their proximity. (Or, if you’re me, you’ll have ripped the Majel Barrett bit of the code out with claw hammers, and replaced it with something with a decent and attractive accent. Possibly something Scottish. But I digress…)

Which brings us to blogjects. Another word that practically clunks whenever it’s used, a blogject is exactly what you’d think: an object that blogs. An object that publishes data about itself to the web at intervals, without the intervention of a human. One might make the case, for instance, that I have turned my hi-fi into a blogject, because I have a set-up that produces a weekly top-ten type chart of music I’m listening to. It’s not strictly accurate, because it’s not the hi-fi itself that’s doing the playing, recording and publishing – I play all my music via iTunes on a PC, going out through the hi-fi, and it’s the PC doing the publishing, which is then interpreted by several intvening services and scripts. But it’s an example of what the future of things might look like.

And where it all gets really exciting/frightening is that almost everything you do will be generating data like this. Me, as much as it creeps me out a little, I think overall it has the potential to be interesting at least.

It’s part of the reason I run ala.sda.ir. Yes, it’s convenient for others (I hope), but it’s also a chance for me to slowly adjust to where I see the web going, the idea that people will continuously generate personal data, that will be available from central “personal portals”. At the moment, I’m choosing to provide it of my own free will, but there’ll come a point where it’s generated my my spimes automatically. For example, if my camera had a built in GPS device (and believe me, I’d love it if it did), all the photos on my photoblog could be geotagged, and (were I to publish enough photos) someone might be able to build up a reasonable picture of where I’ve been on a given day. That is, of course, if my weekly calendar were not enough – although what I’d quite like is something that would compare before-and-after the fact, so I could track how many of the things I book, I wind up doing, and then provide data about which of my friends I wind up cancelling plans with most often, or who I haven’t seen in a while, and so on…

My point is, that the systems I’ve build to do all this proto-spime stuff are slowly coming together, and becoming more accessible to everyone, and we need to start thinking about how we want to manage our privacy in this strange Doctrow-esque future. At the moment, my calendar will allow me to block stuff from public view, and several of my datafeeds allow me to toggle what turns up on the portal. We need to be sure we give users control over what data they expose to the general public.

Which leads in to another topic, identity management, that I’ll come back to another time.

This entry was originally published at my workblog.

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