When using Twitter I love the trickle of updates from friends about what they’re up to. Each update is rarely earth-shattering in itself but I enjoy the cosy ambient feeling of being more in touch with what everyone’s doing. This reminds me that a few weeks ago I was wishing there was a piece of software that made exactly this kind of keeping tabs on friends easier. I shall call this vapourware Panopticon.

Most people I know online generate a lot of data about what they’re doing: weblog entries, instant messenger statuses, music at, their location via Plazes, photos on Flickr, Twitter updates, and no doubt more. It’s easy enough for me to go and see all this stuff but I really want it aggregated in one place.

I want a little ticker-like display at the edge of my screen that updates when a friend listens to new music, posts a new photo, appears online, writes a weblog entry, changes their location, or does anything else that generates capturable data; Panopticon. I could then click to see the photos, writing, etc in my browser. I’d also be able to click to enlarge the ticker to show the latest information from all my friends, rather than just the few most recent updates.

Setting up Panoptican could be a bit of a pain. I saw it as an OS X app, so maybe it could be populated with your iChat buddy list to begin with. But then you’d have to laboriously associate each person with their Flickr accounts, accounts, Twitter accounts, etc, etc.

Of course, if there was an online service that stored all this information for you, as I described in my previous post, maybe all this information about your friends could be pulled in from there. Maybe Panoptican and the social network service could be created by the same people (these imaginary people who exist solely to write software on my whim). So Panopticon would be a way of seeing the latest activity by all the people in the social groups you set up online.

Please, someone, go and build these two things and remember me when you make your fortune (or feel free to forget me when you start building this and the bubble bursts).


  • I used to publish my 'currently listening to' in iChat. And I used to upload my history to, like a good little web2.0 nerd. But I have this crazy guilty feeling about half the stuff I listen to - are people judging me based on my awful musical taste? Merely looking at the contents of someone's iTunes share makes you form an opinion of them, which I find scary enough, but supposing it was public knowledge that I've listened to nothing but Dire Straits all day? I'd be overcome with guilt!

    As is usual when I comment on things, I've lost track of where I was going. I think my point is that the way something is consumed changes the way I feel about publishing it. Certainly I flickr most things only because of the way I know my friends follow the feed. So the existence of this app would probably change how I produce stuff even more.. I wonder if it would be in a good way.

  • The trouble with this stuff is that you might not want all your 'friends' to know the same level of detail. All members of your social group are not equal.

    For example, Tom probably didn't want his boss finding out that he's posting to a weblog during work hours. But how would his boss feel about not being let into that kind of information?

    Until will can get systems with plausible deniablity these systems aren't going to take off so much. How cool would it be that if Tom played any of the Britney Spears on his laptop iTunes subsituted a much more, er, hip and with it, track for anyone who wasn't one of his really trusted amigos?

    Worse still, our behavior changes when we consider that we are being watched, and more imporantly, _who_ you consider watching. Think about it; Do you randomly stuff without thinking about the consequences?

  • It was quarter to six. And there was a power cut. And you were _sleeping_.

  • I recall Danny O'Brien built a kind've location-based Panopticon for Etcon ('03?) a few years ago. Maybe ask him about it.

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Sunday 19 November 2006, 1:21pm

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19 Nov 2006 in Photos

19 Nov 2006 at Twitter

  • 9:48pm: Watching a history of house music and wishing I had a more mis-spent youth.
  • 6:39pm: Enough computing for the weekend... off to read and stuff now... relax...
  • 11:15am: Sorting through a cache of dusty old cassettes I found under the bed.

On this day I was reading