How To Build Digital Commonplace Software

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The idea of a “commonplace” is nothing new – it’s been around for several centuries already – originally in the form of a “commonplace book”. Back in the 16th an 17th centuries, these “books” were used as a means to keep track of important ideas & projects the owner was engaged with.

When you look back at a large number of luminaries (most pertinently the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Isaac Newton and others), you find a “commonplace book” at the core of their work. In these cases, it was never called such – it was just a collection of notes.

This means that the “idea” behind the book is basically that it’s a mindset (rather than a specific strategy / system). You don’t “do” commonplacing – you use it as a way to track your ideas and processes. Ultimately, it should direct you towards a more lucid set of ideals that positions you perfectly for the most appropriate life moving forward.

Whilst “commonplacing” is no longer part of the general zeitgeist (it was taught in the likes of Oxford as a means to record information), the mindset behind it has not abated. Rather, it’s accelerated – especially with the introduction & development of personal technology.

To this end, the idea of a digital commonplace system has not escaped people. In fact, a number of companies / service providers have actually tried to deliver a solution using their own technology – Evernote being the most recognizable.

The problem with the current attempts at providing a “digital” commonplace is they are just taking the “note” taking aspect of a “commonplace book” and applying it to the digital medium. You’re essentially able to store more information in a variety of different ways, stored in a “cloud” server online.

There’s nothing wrong with this, but a “real” digital commonplace needs more than just notes. We have the capacity – and potential – to create something truly remarkable… and people mostly don’t see it. For this reason, I have committed to explaining how a “digital” commonplace should work…

  1. Systems

    By far the most important element to a digital commonplace system is the way it’s able to manage systems (rather than just notes).

    Specifically, by having an interface through which a user’s data is able to be put, it could give them the ability to “track” all aspects of their lives – allowing them to focus on the projects they actually want to achieve.

    The big mistake most people have been making with their interpretations of a “digital commonplace” is to provide the most basic level of interactivity. What’s really required is a way to manage the systems that someone may have in their life – essentially allowing them to focus on improving and developing said systems (for the betterment of their overall life).

  2. Scheduling

    Alongside systems, scheduling also needs to be introduced.

    This will essentially provide users with the ability to create specific systems / results / data-management at particular times throughout the week / month / year. For example, perhaps they’d want to do a “year review” – this would be possible by scheduling a “review” system to run every year.

    On a technical level, this is handled by using a daemon – the equivalent of a cron job. Basically, it allows users to utilize the timing afforded by an “always on” system (cloud) to provide specific functionality for their lives.

  3. Interactivity

    Finally, the ability to interact / interface with other people.

    What was lacking from *any* of the online system that could even be considered as a broach to the “commonplace” ideals of the past is the ability to interact with others (both in the capacity of developing new systems and in sharing results / data from their present ones).

    To this end, any digital commonplace in the future really needs to have an interactive element, whereby users are able to connect with each other and have a way to “share” the various objects they are tracking in their commonplace.

Ultimately, what this means is that we’re looking at developing a system which focuses on integrating API’s into a centralized “dashboard” type interface.

However, the dashboard itself is not what you’d expect. It’s not a 2D boring interface – it’s an immersive application designed around particular scenarios… from being in ancient Rome to a future sci-fi city on a distant world.

The point is that the digital commonplace – at its core – needs to be able to inspire the imagination of anyone using it. This not only means that you need to be looking at embodying a particular ideal with the system, but that each time the user is able to upgrade it etc, they’re able to essentially get a large number of different options to help further their development.

If we can create an immersive experience with the digital commonplace, it will give people the opportunity to become someone they’re presently not. By essentially “pretending” to be that persona, it should give them the opportunity to invest into their own projects / abilities again.

We haven’t designed the digital commonplace system yet – but we have a large number of ideas to help to get it working. These can be seen by browsing on the SGM website for the application.