Microsoft’s Gordon Bell in Forbes on How to Be a Pack Rat

microsoft gordon bell headshotHow To Be A Pack Rat – I’m completely fascinated by the work that Gordon Bell and Jim Gemmell are doing in research at Microsoft with their mylifebits project. I’m also working on my own personal “mylifebits” project at present as well. The problem is I just can’t keep up. So far I’ve got over 50,000 .jpg images including many old scanned family photographs, a little audio and video, and about 5,000 other .pdf documents. Everything from bills to tax returns to letters and correspondance to old report cards from 3rd grade to airline tickets to France 6 years ago — everything gets scanned. It’s enormously helpful having some of it readily available at my fingertips in digital form. It just takes so much time and I do need to grapple with how to make my .pdf’s searchable once they are scanned in which I haven’t even begun to figure out yet. I’m looking forward to the day when Longhorn can search my life.

Gordon, Jim, how about a blog?

From the article:

Gordon Bell is not only one of the chief researchers on the MyLifeBits project, but also its poster child, having spent the last seven years digitizing a lifetime’s worth of information. His existence is now nearly paperless, and he’s living the sort of digital life we may all lead just a few years down the road.

“It started out as me capturing all the stuff that I had from various corporations and working environments,” says Bell. By scanning files into a computer, he was able to get rid of sheaves of paper going back 40 years. Everything from memos to magazines to old articles and pictures got added to the archive. “It was really going back just to see what was there and trying to clean up the past,” he says.

Soon he was also archiving his personal life, scanning in old photos and copying music CDs. Even books were scanned in and converted to text documents. And once the past was saved, Bell put in place mechanisms to archive new data–indeed every letter, voice mail, word processing document and e-mail. Bell even stores every Web page he visits. “That is a valuable thing, because usually when you go back and try to find that sort of thing again, you can’t do it,” he says.

He also records voice conversations and phone calls at work. “I think there’s a huge value in meeting recording,” says Bell. “Those are very valuable when you go back to them.” And increasingly, he’s recording and storing all the TV he watches as well.

This obsessive archiving means that Bell currently is accumulating documents at a rate of about a gigabit of information a month. It’s a staggering collection rate, but storage technologies have advanced so far that it would still take him years to fill up a typical desktop computer’s hard drive.

The project has done more than just prove that it’s possible to archive an entire life. Bell says he’s seen a real increase in productivity from having fast access to information. “It’s very useful to be able to have perfect recall on stuff,” he says.

VIDEO: Channel 9 – Gordon Bell and Jim Gemmell – A look into Microsoft’s Bay Area Research Center, Part I (lots of great insight into MyLifeBits)

Filed in: Industry Buzz

  • viewpoint

    From the article: “I do need to grapple with how to make my .pdf’s searchable once they are scanned in which I haven’t even begun to figure out yet. I’m looking forward to the day when Longhorn can search my life.”

    Dude, get a Mac with OS 10.4 Tiger. Search your PDFs all day long. Or wait until Longhorn is out in ’06… maybe. No need to “figure out” anything, just search for it in Spotlight. Ahhh you can lead a horse to water…