Why I Created MemoryMiner

It’s been just over one year since the very first public announcement of MemoryMiner. Man, time flies. A few days ago, Susan Kitchens, of familyoralhistory.us fame invited me to participate in a Blog Carnival, and who am I to refuse? The topic was something along the lines of overcoming technical issues while recording a family history. The technical issue I encountered was a lack of decent software, so I set about creating something myself. Here’s why…

Over a 12 month period from 2003-2004, my father died, I got married and had a child. I found myself spending a lot of time thinking about the “threads” of my life, particularly how the choices my parents and grandparents faced were shaped by the larger historical events of the time such as the Great Depression, WWII, the Suez Canal Crisis, etc. I also thought about the places I’d travelled, where I went to school, the people I knew but had lost touch with.

During a vacation at the beach with the entire extended family, my brother suggested that we scan as many of the photos in “the” family album as possible. If for no other reason, so he reasoned, we should all have a CD copy of these precious memories. As he busied himself with the disassembly and scanning of the the albums, I noticed something interesting. As people came in from the beach, they started picking up photos and recalling stories. We also noticed interesting patterns, such as a picture of my dad where he looked exactly like my nephew, or the style of pants my mom wore in the 60′s which had come back in vogue again. It was so much easier to make these connections when all the photos were “liberated” from the physical albums and could be rearranged quickly and easily. Essentially, I wanted to capture and extend this shared experience where both the memory artifacts and the people who knew about them were all working together.

Because I had a ton of experience creating “Digital Asset Management” software (I was cofounder and CTO of a company called WebWare that was pioneer in this field), I thought that it would be a pretty interesting challenge to create software that would allow people connect the people, places and times that were captured in their photos–along with all the related letters, articles, etc. that collects in boxes in our attics. While there are several great photo managers on the market such as iPhoto and Picassa, these tools don’t really “connect the dots” in the photos in the way I imagined possible. They pretty much just replicate the structure of a photo album, which is nice, but leaves so many possibilities unexplored.

I wanted to create a tool that would treat each photo as a frame in a storyboard, and allow people to traverse the connections between the people, places and time depicted within. I also dreamed of creating a huge network that would allow people to connect with each other based on overlaps in time and place. It’s kind of a chicken and egg problem. You need to make it as easy as possible for people to do the work of annotating their photos, and then you need to provide a network that lets people connect their libraries securely. No small task.

In December of 2004 I left WebWare (since merged and renamed ClearStory), and set up shop in a cafe around the corner in order to create version 1.0 of MemoryMiner for Macintosh. It was released at Macworld at the beginning of 2006, where it won a “Best of Show” award. Along the way, I’ve been joined by a small group of super talented folks, and we’re cranking along. A Windows version is approaching public beta, and the web services for connecting peoples’ libraries is in the testing phase as well.

There’s still a ton of work to be done, but I’m immensely proud of how far we’ve come with this dream.

One Response to “Why I Created MemoryMiner”

  1. MemoryMiner - Digital Storytelling Software - Blog » Blog Archive » Academic & Institutional Uses for MemoryMiner Says:

    [...] my own itch. I’ve told the story many times, but in case you’re new here, you can read all about it, or watch this presentation. While I had mostly been thinking in terms of personal stories from my [...]