So this happened: I was named one of LAPTOP Magazine’s 20 most important women in mobile tech

I’m having trouble finding words right now, so I’ll let the post speak for itself:

“Openly admitting on her website that she is “passionate about sharing life’s little details,” Lisa Brewster proves her dedication with the microflashes of her life that spill out via Flickr, Tumblr, Twitter, and her personal wiki. Now she has to convince those making apps to become passionate about webOS, as HP and Palm try to jumpstart the platform. With the tech world impatiently awaiting webOS tablets and a wave of new smart phones to compete against iOS and Android, Brewster’s goal of making developers “feel like they’re part of something awesome” will be key.”

This same page consists of an Intel fellow, a startup founder, a professor…and then me, that webOS girl on twitter. I could understand if this were a post about interesting tech women in social media, but these people are making serious change in the world. Mind = blown.

The world is watching us, guys. Everybody on.

I’ve decided Instagram is alright

A few weeks ago, I drafted a scathing post about how obnoxious Instagram is for encouraging people to use tacky filters instead of helping them take better pictures. I had also just gotten a set of Photojojo’s cameraphone filters, and was more than a little smug for experimenting with glass. Well, I’ve been using Instagram since Christmas, and I’ve realized my anti-Instagram argument is just as short sighted as someone criticizing twitter because the only posts they see are what their friends had for lunch.

Tools are as creative as the minds using them, and the best tools get out of the way to help us live better (inspired, connected) lives. And for all its pixel destroying flaws, Instagram is great at that. Continue reading

A new adventure: joining the Palm Developer Relations team

9:30 pm – “On the ground in San Francisco. Nights here really are quite cool and windy. This excites me for some reason.”

I wrote those words in my journal (yes, on paper) on July 19, 2007, when I decided to fly up for Wordcamp on a bit of a whim. Although my journal entry was brief, it marks a pivotal moment in my life. I remember I was in the airport and going up an escalator to get to the BART station. As I reached the top and looked out over the city for the first time, it was like I’d taken my first breath full of energy and life and possibilities, and I immediately knew that something in this city was waiting for me. The moment was so intense, the memory of it can bring tears to my eyes. Continue reading

The future of preDevCamp

On Friday, Dan Rumney made some important announcements on the preDevCamp blog that I’d like to expand upon.

Meet your new organizing team
To fill in for whurley‘s and Giovanni‘s unfortunate departures, Greg Stevenson and myself will be stepping in to help co-ordinate the various preDevCamp events around the globe.  Greg has already been hosting some webOS training sessions (pre-preDevCamps, if you will), and will be invaluable bringing this knowledge to the community.  And while I’ve helped plan a barcamp or two, I’m positively giddy for the chance to help build a stronger community and facilitate knowledge transfer on such a massive scale.  Combined with Dan’s experience bringing preDevCamp where it is today, I think we’re going to make a wonderful team. Continue reading

Individualizing Social Media with a Personal Information Layer

We’ve leveraged social to the point where there’s a big melting pot of content out there, but how do you make all that data more useful? The next step of social media is to take a step back towards a more personal information layer.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the direction of social media and what it means to me, and I’ve found myself uninterested at best. So we share stuff. Big damn deal. There’s so much content being shared to me that I ignore almost all of it now, at least compared to what I was consuming a year ago. No offense to any of my contacts, but I’ve reached the point where enough is enough, and while all that firehose of content is still in my input stream, I’ve altered my patterns to only consume what’s relevant to my interests at that moment.

For example, tweets are skimmed while walking up the stairs (Confession #1: Or when I’m in the restroom. Hey, just being honest), but hundreds of messages may be ignored if I decide to do something more interesting for a weekend. Neglected RSS feeds pile up to the dreaded 1000+ mark. I used to have a level of background stress because I was “behind,” but after learning that I’m no worse off without this information, I now have no regrets using the “mark all as read” button with reckless abandon.

The content’s there, now make it relevant.

While too much content isn’t a bad thing (until you reach the point where you’re so unable to manage it that it becomes easier to ignore), I didn’t bring up the previous rant and confession to focus on content filtering. I think that’s a problem to be solved with some sort of relevancy engine, something that reads in your context, available resources, and attention profile, and feeds you the data that’s most useful to you at that moment. But even that intelligently consumed content can be made much more useful if I have a highly customized layer to help me organize my own meaning for that data.

But there’s bookmarking tools, you might say. And tags. With these tools, you can organize content however you want. To be honest, I could never get started using bookmarking services until just a few months ago when I started using Mento.info, because it has a nice balance between the metadata robustness of a bookmarking service and the relevant content highlighting of a tumblelog. (Confession #2:  the first service was actually ma.gnolia, but only for a few heavily-frequented topics. And all those links are gone now, bless ma.gnolia’s heart.)

Bookmarking services are flexible, but that also means they’re very generic. Their biggest flaw is that even when given the option of clipping content, you’re recording a copy of what someone else said or likes or thinks is useful. What if I like the author’s advice, but find that it doesn’t work for me 100%? Feedback can be shared publicly in comments, but they’re merely a footnote to the original content.

The first step of social media was to make everything public; the next step is to make it more applicable to your individual situation.

I’ve come up with an idea I call a personal information layer. This data layer is a different concept than annotation as found in services like Diigo, where users’ adjustments float like post it notes. The personal information layer should look and interact just like the original content, but customized to the preferences for an individual user. Recipes are a good example. I may like much more sage than the original author called for, or perhaps my oven requires an additional 10 minutes cooking time. The content is way more valuable to me when I can alter it according to my taste and needs.

Remixing is hard enough now. What happens to copyright in an Internet like this?

This question felt a lot easier to deal with when I was trying to keep the data in the personal information layer truly personal (read: private), but it just won’t work that way (Confession #3:  also, I loathe the idea of building another social graph). Even individual adjustments to public content is useful data, so there’s value in sharing it. But this will be harder to defend than deep linking and reblogging…this is making potentially minor changes to someone else’s otherwise verbatim content and collecting it all under your own name. Simultaneously collecting and customizing data is another step towards the ideal Internet, but at what point does Emeril’s pie recipe become Brittany’s pie recipe? What’s the significance if it was Kathy’s version before Brittany saw it?

I can’t predict how the Internet community will respond to any of these challenges; I don’t think anyone can until a demo is released in the wild to see how people react. And of course, I wouldn’t go through the trouble of documenting all these questions and ideas if I didn’t have a hell of a use case I hope Dave and I have time to experiment with over the summer.

Plans underway for preDevCamp San Diego!

As soon as I read on WebOS Arena that @whurley, @giovanni, and @dancrumb were organizing a worldwide Pre development invasion, I knew that San Diego had to be a part of it.  Even though we don’t know the launch date yet, over 60 cities have committed to host developer events one week after we’re able to get our hands on the phone that’s going to revolutionize the mobile cloud computing experience.

What’s a DevCamp?
We haven’t had many developer camps in San Diego, but they’re like a BarCamp centered around creating applications on a common platform or language.  Users just like you will lead sessions covering everything from basic functionality, differences between the Pre and existing Palm devices (and the iPhone!), brainstorming sessions, and lots of group hacking time.  From what we know about the Pre’s webOS so far, applications are written in super easy HTML and CSS, so just about anyone should be able to get up and running after an intro session to the webOS SDK.  But even if HTML ain’t your style, we’ll need people to come up with application ideas and help test the code other people create.  Palm will also be releasing an emulator, so you can still participate even if you can’t buy the hardware before the event.  If you’re a creative type and have been getting excited about the Pre, you need to sign up now!

Help wanted!
If you’re interested in throwing conventional organization out the window and helping find a venue and some sponsors, don’t forget to check that pretty little volunteer box on the registration page so I’ll know to get in touch with you.  If you’re interested in sponsoring, contact me and Giovanni Gallucci.

Watch the preDevCamp San Diego blog and the @preDevCamp twitter account for further information, and start spreading the word now that San Diego’s going to kick some webOS development ass sometime in the next five months!

The relationship between copyright and license

Even though I’ve been releasing my artwork under Creative Commons for several years, today was the first day I really thought about the relationship between copyright and license.

It all started when I received a message on Flickr inviting me to participate in a photography contest on a saltwater aquarium site.  I have a ton of great images from the California Academy of Sciences that I could submit, so decided to check it out.  The rules are pretty standard, but the following declaration they requested gave me cause for alarm:

I YOUR NAME certify that I am the author and sole owner of the material I am submitting to Aquariumslife.com. I understand and agree that Aquariumslife.com may use my material anywhere on Aquariumslife.com. I understand and agree that Aquariumslife.com may resize my material if needed. I understand and agree that I remain the owner of the Copyright of all material submited [sic] to Aquariumslife.com and that a Copyright notice will be add [sic] to my picture.

Copyright notice will be added this way: ⓒ YOUR NAME 2008.

This immediately reminded me of Flickr users who go out of their way to add those copyright notices to their photos and specify that all rights are reserved, do not use without permission, etc.  I respect that some people need to maintain extremely tight control, but being so limited in how I can share these works (and link back to them) drastically reduces their art’s value to me.  The copyright symbol is a mark of disgrace, and I want nothing to do with it.

I mentioned my predicament on Twitter and got some enlightening (and memory jogging) responses.  I remember now how copyright is automatic and exists for all creative works.  It means that you have control of the work, but the copyright (and the copyright symbol) isn’t what makes someone a creative dictator or anarchist.  The license is what specifies how others can use the work.  That license can be all rights reserved or one of the Creative Commons licenses, but the copyright still exists.

I think why this was a point of confusion for me is because I’ve never seen ⓒ specified on a photo without the intent of all rights reserved, and I didn’t want the stigma of a more restrictive license just because of this contest.  I wrote the organizer back to say that I would prefer that my photos not be watermarked at all, or to use CC-BY-SA if they must add something.  I may be over-drawing the line, but there’s no shame in defending your principles.

Where there’s a smoke alarm…


Two of the six fire trucks that were on my street, originally uploaded by Lisa Brewster.

When I came home from work tonight, I noticed a strange burning smell. It got stronger as I walked towards my apartment, and soon I heard a smoke detector going off. I walked around a bit to pinpoint the source, and sure enough I found an apartment that had a funny burning smell (no smoke or flames).

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Making sense of lifestreaming

So earlier this week, Dave and I were published in a lifetracking/streaming article (thanks to sweet friends Brynn and Chris) in the Washington Post called Bytes of Life. We thought our conference call with reporter Monica Hesse went pretty well, but neither of us expected to get the kind of coverage we did for talking about a little statistics app we’re working on that we’ve tentatively called I Did Stuff, which is basically a combination of every good idea we’ve had in the last year.

The premise for I Did Stuff lies in the belief that we’re tracking so many aspects of our life now that computers need to not only make sense of this data for our own use, but also use it to deliver status on demand. One common example I’ve used is that of the “reverse twitter”…basically to combine Google calendar, IM status, and whole host of other data sources into one remotely queryable interface. And anyone can ask this interface “Where is Dave?” and receive a response like “Well he isn’t in front of IM, but he has class in 10 minutes, so he might be in transit. But his phone is on the charger, so he either forgot his phone or is oversleeping.”

Which was a great idea a year ago, and as far as I know still hasn’t been done. But since then, this idea has grown into so much more. Not only do we want to create an AI who can infer status for others, we want it to learn more about us than we know ourselves.

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Quote

Brewster and Horn see untapped potential for optimizing productivity and life experiences. If you could learn which foods, people, activities, sleep patterns, driving routes and television shows left you the most content, think of how much better your life would be.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/09/08/AR2008090802681.html