The elusive Me Collector

Amy Gahran says, "I want one place for all my content: Pipe dream?"  She mentioned this at BlogHer as well.  Is she looking for the aggregator-of-me?  Is it more than a good feed aggregator?

I keep having this vision. I hope it will come about someday. There’s no way I’m the only person who’d want this.

The basics of the problem are pretty familiar: content I generate is scattered across many websites of varying degrees of openness.  Blogs, wikis, forums, social networks, paid publications, mailing lists, photos, videos, podcasts, ...  But there isn't a place where all of that stuff comes together.  At the high level the needs are: automatic; item-level controls; permanence; tags; re-mixability.

I have seen some people attempt to use their blogs as a partial answer to this - doing things like posting comments made as regular blogs posts as well.  But this requires active management of the far flung content, adding steps to work that should be happening behind the scenes.  And many people have been incorporating feeds from other sources into their websites (Flickr widget, Twitter, ...).  Assuming those services survive, the content will have a permanent location.

I've seen discussions about this in many forms, and I think the key for a lot of the discussions is that each location needs to provide a web feed for the content, so that it can be consumed.  But then what about sites that don't have a feed? 

At a first pass, if I can get or make web feeds for all my content, then the obvious place to collect it all is in a feed aggregator, either online or on my computer.  However, There are several services that are madenningly close to this with my online life.  Here are some, please chime in with what you know about others.

  • I suspect Ziki might be the closest match.  Luis Suarez really likes it (my profile), which is a nice place that centralizes a lot of my online life.  One can add links from just about any service, and it has to be done service-by-service.  If it has a web feed, then Ziki will incorporate that into your Ziki page.
  • I just discovered Lijit (at BlogHer), which is primarily a service that helps you create customized search, centered around your online life (my Lijit search).  The thing I liked about the setup, is that it went out to the common web services and found profiles that appeared to match me.  (I am "jackvinson" just about everywhere, it was able to do so.)  If I give Lijit access to my profile on social networking services, it will incorporate my network into the search.  Lijit appears to operate off web feeds, and it will take web feeds from anywhere to add to the search, including an list of my regular reads.  Of course, since Lijit is designed around search, it isn't really set up to work as a repository in the way Amy suggests.
  • A piece of the pie is content that doesn't necessarily have web feeds, such as comments I leave on other blogs.  Comment aggregators (co.mments and coComment) provide a central place to track articles where I am interested in the comments, even for services that don't offer a feed of the comments.  Not only this, but they also offer a feed of the aggregated comments, so I can slurp them into my Me Aggregator.
  • Many web-based fora offer feeds of the comment streams, but the variation in quality and availability is mightily frustrating for someone who wants to collect content into one place.  Maybe a well-designed YahooPipe that slurps all my forum content and then filters only for those posts I have written or contributed to.  And then dump that into the Me Collector.
  • And there are many other sites and services that remain walled off or have other protection (rightly so).  For some, I could imagine setting up an HTML-to-RSS scraper, but it would be a site-by-site effort.
  • Any mailing list can be dumped into a mail-to-RSS service (described by Robin Good in 2004).  YahooGroups was offering RSS, but I can't find the setting in a group I own -- it is not turned on by default.
  • Here is a long shot: Spock.  It doesn't provide the content collection, but I was surprised to find that it did some auto-discovery to find like "jack vinson" profiles out there (my profile).  This suggests that a service like the Me Collector is possible to automate at some level.  I have some Spock invites, which seem to be a dime a dozen.
  • There are many other feed-collecting services (Grazr, Feed Digest, ...) that could be used to filter and or collect feeds from many locations.  There is still the question of putting the content somewhere and being able to do something with it.
  • And if something like this really exists in the RSS world, I bet Marjolein Hoekstra already knows about it.

I don't think anything I've run across, beyond your standard feed aggregator, has the ability to do something with the resulting aggregated content.  Amy suggested that she would like to be able to categorize / tag the content, selectively share it, re-mix it, analyze it, feed it out to something else....  Essentially, "it's my stuff, let me play with it."

11 Comment(s)

Amy Gahran said:

Thanks so much for posting this, Jack! This whole thing kinda reminds me of the blind men and the elephant -- people are staking out parts of the problem without seeing the whole picture.

Of course, the whole picture here is very technically thorny, especially where blog comments and forums are concerned. But that's no reason not to chip away at it!

I like your term "me collector." In fact, as a modest incentive to ambitious geeks, I just bought the domain I'll give it away to anyone who can show me a tool that does what I want it to do.

Yeah, you're right -- It's my stuff, let me play with it.

Blogged you back, BTW.


- Amy

Jack, thanks for the mention and for trying us out. I'd love to hear any suggestions that you may have for ways that we could improve what we're doing. It makes me happy to know that my Lijit evangelizing didn't fall on deaf ears at BlogHer.

smorty71 said:

Actually Profilactic is pretty close to what you're talking about. And the parts we don't have yet, like trends and advanced friend management, are coming in v3.

Right now, we aggregate all of the content you create online. We support over 55 sites by default and you can add unlimited custom sites. As long as it has a URL and/or an RSS feed, you can pull it into Profilactic.

We also allow you to pull your friends content into Profilactic and mash it up into a single stream. We are working on tools to allow you to choose which feeds you care about for each friend. So if you don't like someone's photos, but you love their blog and want to see their twitter updates, you can do that.

In addition to aggregating the content you and your friends create, we also allow you to "clip" stuff about you. So if you wrote an article or someone posted a photo of you, you can clip that item and store it in Profilactic.

Of course, we also give you badges so that you can take your mashed up content with you to your blog or website.

Check out my mashup here to see what it can do:

Again, it doesn't have everything you mentioned (yet); however, it is better (IMNSHO) than the other sites you mentioned.


Lumpy Author Profile Page said:


lots of good info in this post. Now I have more stuff to try.

Is this not very similar to what was discussed in the book "Future Shock" and termed "information overload" many years ago? Maybe the more recent term (circa 1997) "data smog" also applies? The ease of content generation continues to require less effort. Thus more is generated. The rate of generation continues to increase. One's own content is enough of a challenge but add shared bookmarks and comments to the "Me Collection" and it gets even messier.

I use delicious to track what you, Amy Gahran and others are bookmarking and sharing. I start almost every day by looking over my network in delicious. Have you ever attempted to use the subscriptions in delicious? By the time you add one link to your delicious account, the entire subscription page has likely changes.

At present, the rate of content generated COULD actually exceed our ability to store it. IF this actually does happen, how do we decide who's "Me Collection" gets deleted? I am an optimist and am confident that there shall arise a solution to this problem.

Thanks for writing this. BTW, have any of you heard about Parakey? It is not out yet but it is supposed to make the web integrate seamlessly with your desktop. Facebook just bought this not even in beta startup. I am pretty new to Facebook but I can see how, if Parakey lives up to the hype, how this might actually bring us a step closer to the "Me Collection". Nonetheless, it sure is going to be fun to participate in and watch.

jackvinson Author Profile Page said:

Thanks, Lumpy.

You make a good point about information overload, as having all this stuff collected in one place could look overwhelming. But look at the intention behind Amy's request. She is looking for a central repository of everything she does online. The intention, I think, is for "me" first: it's an archive, a launching point, a means to deal with the personal stuff overload.

How are delicious subscriptions different from following the RSS feed for an individual or a tag? Is it simply a nice way to collect all the feeds I follow in one place?

Parakey got a lot of notice when Facebook bought them, but I haven't any direct experience. It might be nice to include "my desktop" in a central collection, but the security and confidentiality issues can become a problem (client work; personal matters).

jackvinson Author Profile Page said:

It's hard to believe I forgot to reference Jim McGee's excellent Weblog as my backup brain. He wrote this five years ago, and I think there are a lot of connections to the above. The shortcoming, of course, is that it doesn't act as a Me Collector, it's more of a place for Me Documentation.

And back at Amy's original post, commenters have mentioned hanzo:web, a service that is geared around saving your web content. And Dandelife that collects lifestreams into one place.

Nancy White said:

Sorry I did not make it to Chicago and Blogher. Bah!

As I read this post, I was struck at how much it addresses a challenge we are looking at from a communities of practice perspective - how to manage one's multimembership in many communities and networks. I've tagged it multimembership to keep in my growing collection!

jackvinson Author Profile Page said:

Thanks, Nancy. I missed you too - I was hoping you would be among the many people I would get to meet at the conference. C'est la vie.

Interesting thought -- extending the "Me Collector" to a "We Connector." Obviously, the requirements would be different. But, I think some of the core principals are related. Look at how many places people discuss "communities."

Daniel Sweet said:

Another piece of the puzzle is Google Reader. It's a typical web-based RSS reader except that you can tag content to re-share with the click of one button.

Then, anyone that goes to your personalized share URL can see all of the stuff from everywhere that you tagged to share.

It doesn't really have the discovery aspect (unless you set up a Google Alert for "Jack Vinson" and then use the RSS feed to track it), but it's another step closer.


Lumpy said:

I agree with you about the "me" part. I want the same.

Ironically what is missing here is what I have said elsewhere.

It just dawned on me that I never tend to post what I blog to delicious. I was reading what you, Amy Gahran and Robert Scoble wrote as I was writing a post over at lockergnome.

I am also dealing with two abandoned kittens that distract me often. Then I notice they have fleas. Then I have to bath them. Then I notice my couch has fleas. Then I have to rush to work and post what I was writing...

The result is I completely forget to mention what I was actually saying and doing at another blog. I don't see any trackback regarding what I said elsewhere here. I think, IMHO, it might have made my poor communication better. A Me collector would have saved me.

I also missed the comments here that were made after mine. It seems I need to hit refresh to make them show. What a mess. Not the point I was trying to make at all. I agree and want the same thing.

I also agree on the privacy issue. Can there not be some simple way to make at easy as switching desktop views in linnux? Heck, I think it would even be great if, provided both parties agreed, to make all aware of any e-mails sent back and forth regarding the topic. Even if the case be missing the mark, as in my case, it still is "me". BTW -->

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