ePortfolios and the digital lifestyle

A TV remote control that can display XML-based widgets? Whatever next?

People have been talking about things like fridges with flat panel displays for just about an eternity now, but I’ve never really seen the point. To-do lists are great, for sure, but I think most families would prefer to buy a $10 whiteboard than a $1000 smart fridge. But what if the kinds of widgets we’ve seen popping up on the Mac OS Dashboard and the upcoming Windows Vista Desktop could be taken with you? So for example, a businessman might want to keep track of his stock, and a widget for that could be carried around and displayed on the devices nearest to him – the fridge, the TV remote, the dashboard of his car, his cellphone, his computer desktop. Pardon me while I disappear into speculateville for a minute or two.

You see, I think this might be an acceptable use for the dreaded RFID, or something similar – and personal profiles in the user-centric Elgg model. Imagine if you carried around a personal profile with you, but every item of data on it was access restricted. So for example, using some kind of affordable computer interface, you could assign some information to be readable by your business partners, others to be readable by your spouse and children, some to be readable by all. And then sensors in the environment – sort of like the ones in new Japanese cigarette vending machines – picked out the information you made available to them and altered their functions accordingly.

So far this isn’t far from what people are discussing already. But let’s add an extra level to this: what if there were lightweight, standards-based software tools embedded in the tag as well? So as you walked from place to place, your stock quotes or assignments tracker followed you around, possibly sensing your location and reacting accordingly (you might want to make your IM widget available in your bedroom, but not the boardroom; you might want a flight arrivals tracker to display on your cell for a certain amount of time only). Similarly, you might have made some of your personal preferences available in your eportfolio, and the environment might adapt to suit them, sort of like Bill Gates’s house does at the moment. Alternatively, you might be able to perform a search, to find out who in the room has an interest in ecology, for example, and perhaps trade some papers you’ve written. The key, of course, is that you control the access to each of these items; in this kind of setting you’d probably want strong encryption on everything else. But imagine the possibilities.

However, at this precise moment in time I would give up this whole read-write web shebang for a cure for the common cold. I hereby ask for your favourite cold remedy while I sip at yet another mug of lemsip.

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