New social media has led to an explosion in personal digital data that encompasses both those expressions of self chosen by the individual as well as reflections of self provided by other, third parties. The resulting Digital Personhood (DP) data is complex and for many users it is too easy to become lost in the mire of digital data. This is unfortunate as these digital representations of self are not only valuable to the individual as a means of self-reflection, but also have great information value as a community, business and social policy resource. In this proposal, we argue that the ability to represent and edit personal digital data in a meaningful form is crucial to the empowerment of individuals and communities and that it could also generate significant benefit to government and business. We would also argue that, this ‘meaningful form’ should include a filmic, narrative structure that is easy to comprehend and edit and that allows for a simply comparison of one digital life with another. In short, we propose building searchable, personal film-like documentaries (that we would term ‘Reels’) from existing, digital data.

To build the Reels, we must first develop the means of capturing online life logs, events and associated data. A variety of means already exist to do this, but we must ensure that we are able to take data that is distributed over multiple social networks and integrate it into a single profile that captures a users interests and experiences, social networks, behaviour, personality and mood states at various points in their own personal timeline. These profiles can then provide us with rich representations and understanding of users’ life events and contexts at different points in time, which we can process further to generate video storylines and narrative. A simple time-line structure is insufficient in and of itself to create a meaningful narrative, and a crucial technical issue here regards the extent to which existing digital material can be matched to existing, known narrative structures in order to make sense of a diffuse landscape of events and images. With the right narrative structures in place, the objects, images and events can then be brought to life.

Our aim is to develop systems that can convert the available profile data into meaningful personal documentaries (Reels) that individuals can either edit themselves or that can be turned over to film and media professionals to create Reels of intrinsic artistic value. Crucial to this project is the fact that each Reel is completely searchable, because it is generated from underlying semantic data. This allows for the direct comparison of one individual digital life with another or facilitates the collection and comparison of digitally similar Reels that allow enhanced understanding of communities and the citizens within them. We propose a significant period of user and stakeholder engagement with business and community leaders to understand the value of such comparisons.

Project details

October 2013 – March 2017
EPSRC (EP/N028198/1)
Funded value:
  • Matthew Peter Aylett, University of Edinburgh (Co-Investigator)
  • Finola Kerrigan, University of Birmingham (Co-Investigator)
  • Harith Alani, The Open University (Co-Investigator)
  • Andrew Hart (Co-Investigator)

NORTH Lab investigators

Pam Briggs

I hold a Chair in Applied Psychology at Northumbria University and am a Visiting Professor at Newcastle University. My work primarily addresses issues of identity, trust and security in new social media, seeking answers to three main questions: Why and when do we feel secure in disclosing sensitive identity information about ourselves? What makes us trust an electronic message? How and when do we seek to protect our privacy?

In the last five years, I’ve secured over £2m in research funding, have published over forty articles on human perceptions of trust, privacy and security in computer-mediated communication and have developed, with colleagues, a new model of health advice-seeking online. I’m one of the founder members of the UK's Research Institute in the Science of Cybersecurity, funded by GCHQ in association with RCUK's Global Uncertainty Programme and my most recent research awards address both usable and inclusive privacy and security.

My latest projects (see projects page) concern cybersecurity across the lifespan (cSALSA), the human side of cyber and cloud crime (CRITICAL) and attitudes and decision-making behaviours around cyberinsurance (CYBECO). I’m also a co-investigator on the Digital Economy Research Centre (DERC) where I’ve been exploring ways to democratise context-relevant data collection and analysis and explore the design of digital platforms for social action.

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