Saturday, January 09, 2010

Echo Media: Life Enhancement Through Personal Content

Hipster PDA
Image by shainelee via Flickr
I know that the whole world is talking about how social media is revolutionizing life as we know it. Being a social media geek myself, I would have to agree with that. However, there is a growing market for what I am calling Echo Media, which consists of content aimed not at the public or a close circle of friends. Rather, aimed at enhancing your own life and ability to keep up with the increasingly fast pace of life. This is media that echoes back to you your own information. You put that information in with the intent of being your own audience.

It is no secret that I am a big fan of Evernote, a cloud-based service that allows you to store information as it comes at you from day to day. In the free version, Evernote allows you to store text notes, photographs, and PDF files up to 40 MB per month. This in itself is rather powerful. However, if you go to their premium subscription for $5/month, you can upload any file up to 25MB in size for a total of half a gigabyte per month. As far as little notes to yourself, this is a lot of information.

We have always created media of some sort or another to help us remember things. We made home movies so we could watch later when the kids grew up. We wrote tons of notes on paper and filed them away for later. We have made voice recordings in the form of dictations and voice memos. So long as we could afford the technology, we have always used whatever media is available to help us remember important things, even if it's just pencil and paper.

The first way in which we create our own Echo Media is on our computers. We keep photos, files, movies, and all sorts of content on them to preserve our work and experiences. The downside is that you have to be at your computer to access this information. This is not good enough if you are out of the office or away from your home computer for long stretches. In addition, should anything happen to your computer, you've lost your archives.

Evernote is simply one example of the new information repositories that echo back our own personal information. Never before have we had this level of access to our information. Anybody with a smart phone can access their information store within Evernote to bring up important or trivial information that is relevant on the spot. Typically, when you put information into Evernote, you do not intend to share that information with anybody. It mostly is intended for your own use.

Back when I was younger, I often dreamed of having a personal database that I could use to gather, sort, and search for information, like they do in the movies. The problem with your standard database is that the fields are fixed and can only hold certain types of information. Each field can only hold that type of information and nothing else. The databases of old are very inflexible.

Databases like Evernote allow you to dump any kind of information in, tag it, and then sort and search as needed. The database recognizes handwriting and printed text in photographs, text in notes, text in PDFs, and soon, I understand, even speech. There is no tedious need to sit at the computer to enter this information. It can be entered on the fly from your mobile phone, email, your computer, and even through Twitter. This ease of use makes it more likely that you'll store data. It also makes it more likely you will seek and find the data later.

For now, Evernote is the only Echo Media service of which I am aware. Perhaps there will be others in the future. If anything were to come close to that, I would say it is the Wiki. The main problem with Wikis is that they are not typically mobile phone friendly. Wikis give you that same powerful multimedia storage, indexing, and search capability. But, typically Wikis are only web based; whereas Evernote, and whatever challengers may come up in the future, offer mobile clients to facilitate access and content creation.

I think that in the future you will see other companies start to provide services that allow you to gather information, sort it, and access it anywhere. Evernote is simply the first. Look around your existing services and take stock over which ones you use to store your files and information out of sight from the world. As technology becomes more ubiquitous, expect to create content for your own personal consumption more and more. Expect to store everything and anything that touches your life; expect it to be easy to access when you need it.

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