People engaged with digital information sources and built assets as they acquired knowledge, make informed decisions, and shared insights with others. These activities helped humanity advance. The fruitful exchange of information among individuals helped an information society function and prosper.
After five decades of personal computing, it was important to re-visit the common paradigms used in the design and delivery of digital technologies. The desktop metaphor for organizing and managing information has been transcended to include cloud services, mobile applications, sensor input, and machine-to-machine operations. Personal analytics enabled the analysis of practices and physiological states to gain insights and tailor services to individuals and groups. Social computation, social media interactions, self-organizing enterprises, crowdsourcing models, and virtual reality opened up new opportunities for engagements across the globe, transcending location and time.
Individuals engaged with this rich ecosystem of digital technologies to create and use valuable digital assets that shape their lives and the society as a whole. The elements of a virtual legacy or personal digital estate are linked through the individual’s identity and personae. Ecosystem elements included school, employer and community portals and comprise both personal and institutional boundaries. Yet, at the moment, the ecosystem lacked user-centered organizing principles that would help people manage, reason about and assert control over digital interactions and digital possessions through a lifetime.
We put forward the notion of a digital estate as a new metaphor for situating digital activities and recognizing the self in the digital medium. The notion implied both privileges and responsibilities for owning a digital estate, as well as the ability to transact assets. It allowed us to reason about the legal, economic, and societal frameworks within which we are empowered to acquire and use digital services, create, acquire, and share content, data and experiences, create and control digital personae and assets gleaned over life-times, and pass them on.
While the digital estate notion had its own specific characteristics and requirements, we could draw an analogy that helped us imagine the future and articulate this vision. Akin to physical homes and services that support life within them, digital estates may comprise building blocks of hardware components, information architectures, algorithmic functions, communication services, security and privacy protections, legal frameworks for interacting with third parties, legacy relationships, and the social practices of sharing digital spaces. We looked to understand the requirements for leveraging these to enhance the human experience.
As a crucial step towards imagining the future of digital estates, we invited explorations that relate to learning and passing on knowledge. We built on the momentum established by initiatives in e-portfolios, assessment, certifications, and the frontiers of collaboration, crowdsourcing, privacy, and security. The ‘learning and education’ thread of digital estates spans all life stages, from first words as infants and kindergarten plays, to formal education, professional learning, work portfolios, leisure interests, collaboration with others (for example, publishing with colleagues or reading e-books with grandchildren), and recapitulating content for posterity.