Designed to Disappear

I discovered a really smart phone app this weekend called Glympse. It’s a pretty simple app that helps users share their location. Using your phone you can send an SMS or email to anyone letting them track your location.

In the design of the app, the developers must have really thought hard about people’s hesitance to share their location because they designed a timeline into each notification. So, if we were meeting somewhere and I was running late, I could send you a link that would display my location on map and that link would only work for a configurable amount of time, (say 30 minutes). During that time, as I moved around you could see where I was on the map. After 30 minutes, the link goes dead.

I’m pretty excited about this little bit of functionality because I think we’ve entered into a new phase of how we deal with our connected life. We have so much data and so many connections, sometimes the data or the connection would be better if it wasn’t permanent.

What if the systems that carry more temporal data really started to reflect that data’s ephemerality? Twitter is decent example of a designed to decay system, tweets only hang around for a handful of weeks. What if restaurant reviews created a year ago carried less weight than the ones made last week? What if past-date promotional emails just disappeared from my inbox? I have loads of weak Facebook connections that I wouldn’t miss if they just expired? (No offense, but that let’s me focus on the people I have greater connection with).

Right now we live at the end of the digital firehouse, everything just lands in our lap and we have to decide what to do with it. Some of The most meaningful online interactions mirror their real world counterparts. For the moments that matter now but not later, we will begin to have to design for disappearance.

3 comments

  1. Thanks for another thought provoking article, this is indeed a phenomenon that our consultants have only recently begun making intentional, system design decisions to solve. It’s a simple question, but one that nonetheless carries grave consequences if inadequately addressed: How do you engineer a knowledge environment where information “dies a natural death”?

    I also found it intriguing that you mentioned the Facebook example – for me, Paul Adams (Google UX > FBook) recently illuminated the “temporal” design component of connections. Few enterprise consultants seem to embrace that point, but it remains a critical dimension for the simple understanding that more connections will always generate the need for more elaborate filters.

    Another thought:

    Industry research suggests that knowledge workers spend a solid quarter of their time searching for the information they need to effectively complete their jobs. Out of that, there exists a high likelihood of tremendously wasted resources.

    Jeff Jonas at IBM used the Puzzle Metaphor to describe this problem: Imagine that your information is an ever-growing pile of puzzle pieces of varying sizes, shapes and colors.

    Imagine:
    -What it represents is unknown (there is no picture on hand)
    -Is it one puzzle, 15 puzzles, or 1,500 different puzzles?
    -Some pieces are duplicates, missing, incomplete, low quality, or have been misinterpreted
    -Some pieces may even be professionally fabricated lies

    Point being: Until you establish a better system to sort the pieces out, you won’t know what you are dealing with. Period.

    To that extent, the final observation is very enlightening: contextualizing data points in respect to Time + Location makes for absolute identification and disambiguation. In a world where we lose track of +85% of information that we need on a regular basis and are thus forced to “recreate the wheel” more than half the time, designing systems to intelligently handle for us the “disappearance” of irrelevant information seems to be half the battle…

  2. *fantastic* — thanks for this!

  3. […] couple of years ago, I wrote about data being Designed to Disappear, (years before SnapChat, people.) So I’m going to try and start to note the (rare) moments […]

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