If you paid any attention to photography news in 2012 and 2013, you probably noticed the surge in 'lifelogging' cameras.
The cameras differed in specifics, but the general idea was pretty much as it sounds – a camera you would clip to yourself and wear to record every detail of your life. Some would take photos at regular intervals, others would use AI and face/noise detection to pick the best moments. Either way, what was promised was a constant, ongoing record of a person's life, which could be curated and stored for years to come.
As a concept it immediately caught people's imaginations. One lifelogging camera, the Memoto, raised a whopping $550,189 on Kickstarter, promising "a way to relive more of our lives in the future – and enjoy the present as it happens." Meanwhile, OMG Life's Autographer was released to great fanfare in 2013, even featuring on The Jonathan Ross Show. Lifelogging looked set to take over the world.
The Mofily YoCam in action
Except it didn't. At the end of 2014, OMG Life announced that the Autographer would cease production. The Memoto, rebranded as the Narrative Clip due to a trademarking issue, is still going, though in July of this year the company announced the beginning of a significant restructure in order to secure continued funding.
Other lifelogging cameras emerged, including the iON Snapcam and 4GEE Capture Cam, but none saw widespread adoption. You probably didn't need me to tell you this. After all, when was the last time you saw someone with a camera clipped to their lapel?
So, what happened?
The iON action camera
"I think it's fair to say that 'lifelogging' – capturing data about your life for the sake of analysis and self-improvement – was a hot trend back in 2012, but has since not grown beyond the core group of dedicated lifeloggers," Oskar Kalmaru, Chief Marketing Officer and one of the founders of Narrative (formerly Memoto), tells us.
Read this: How to livestream your life on the move
"At Narrative, we noticed early on that our customers used their Narrative Clip for many other things than lifelogging, like travels, moments with their kids, capturing their cooking, recording their homestyling, market research and academic research. With this in mind, we built the second version of the Narrative Clip, the Clip 2.
"Today, lifelogging is a niche use case, but it has opened the door for many creative ways to use technology like wearable cameras."
Oskar's assessment of the market is shared by others in the field, although Giovanni Tomaselli, CEO of iON (who produce the similar Snapcam), is more blunt:
"The market has stood still in this area, except we are now at 1080p vs 720p resolution," Giovanni tells us. "The issue is that demand is not there."
Indeed, iON is getting out of the lifelogging game – Giovanni says the company is shifting its focus to 360-degree capture and VR.
Wait and see
Andy Kropa uses Narrative Clips for street photography
Of course, this isn't to say that lifelogging cameras have had no interest or success. Plenty of people have purchased the cameras, and a glance across Instagram, Flickr and the other usual suspects will show them being used and enjoyed. What's notable, though, is that in many cases the cameras aren't really being used for lifelogging exactly.
Take for example Andy Kropa, who is using the Narrative Clip for an ongoing street photography project in his home city of New York, the results of which he is posting to his Instagram page (@andykropa). When we got in touch, he was delighted to talk about the camera.
"It's a very interesting camera to use," he says. "I'm not sure if I am taking the photos or if they are being taken by a computer. Moreover, I'm not sure who is the better photographer between us – statistically, counting the number of 'keeper' shots out of a given group of images, we are basically even."
I'm not sure who is the better photographer between us – statistically, counting the number of 'keeper' shots out of a given group of images, we are basically even
Andy enjoys the Narrative Clip's ease of use – his project really doesn't require him to do much more than walk from place to place.
"Not seeing images instantly, as you would on a phone or digital camera, has given me a new sense of freedom and discovery when later viewing the images," he says. "In that way, I find it is similar to the days of analogue photography, when you would wait for film to arrive from a lab to see what you had shot."
He isn't 'lifelogging' exactly, but Andy has found an interesting and creative use for his Narrative Clip that makes the most of its singular features.
However, it appears he is the exception rather than the norm among lifelogging camera users.
"[We've seen] nothing out of the ordinary and that is what has surprised us," says iON's Tomaselli of the response to the Snapcam.
"I think the standard sports action camera had a base line of really cool things to do, and people created amazing videos and people watched them. In this area we have not seen anything like that at all."
EE's 4GEE action camera has been aimed at business
Some major manufacturers have dipped their toes in the lifelogging waters, but it's fair to say results have met with mixed success.
Back in February, Sony announced a lifelogging camera called the Xperia Eye, which sported an intelligent shutter that would use face and voice recognition technologies to add a degree of intelligence to lifelogging.
However, as of yet, there's been no indication of when (or if) this camera will move beyond being a "conceptual vision".
EE also gave the idea a go with the 4GEE Capture Cam. In November 2015 this was billed as a perfect livestreaming lifelogging camera for consumers and small businesses. It would allow the regular consumer to capitalise on EE's 4G network and livestream their day-to-day life, or businesses to livestream video to their customers.
The 4GEE Capture Cam is still available, however EE seem to have reviewed their strategy, and are pushing it towards small businesses quite a bit harder than they were on release.
The product page promotes the camera as being a useful tool for small businesses, but is a little reticent when it comes to offering concrete examples of what its uses actually are. It offers only two. The first is as a tool for remote learning in active disciplines such as cycling, where the instructor and student communicating over, say, Skype wouldn't be practical. The second is for estate agents, whom EE says could use the camera to livestream house viewings for prospective buyers/renters.
Both of these seem plausible, but in neither case is it likely that livestreaming could seriously replace the real thing, whether that's hands-on cycling instruction, or actually physically standing in the house you're going to live in. The use for the camera again seems niche.
Imagine a day out with these people
The problem lifelogging cameras smacked up against, and never solved, was their raison d'être. The various models offered varied ways for a person to record the minutiae of their day-to-day existence, but none came up with many compelling reasons why one might want to do so.
If I strapped a Narrative Clip to my chest on an average day, it would record interiors of me writing in coffee shops within a 100-metre radius of my house, and follow that up with a static interior of my living room featuring a television playing Star Trek: The Next Generation. I would be deeply suspicious of anyone who wanted to look at that.
Now, you could argue that many people live more interesting lives than I do, and you'd be right, but the fact remains that most people's day-to-days don't merit recording (and this isn't even getting into the potential privacy issues that many publications quickly picked up on). And if the lifelogging camera therefore becomes something you only bring with you to interesting events or occasions then, well, that's what people do with ordinary cameras. That's what people do with GoPros.
Narrative's Oskar Kalmaru agrees. He says, "With lifelogging being a niche that I don't see growing much in the near future, other wearable cameras will have to move in a similar direction that Narrative has: towards a versatile camera that can be used for whatever the wearer wants to use it for.
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"And most importantly, supply a software that allows for selective usage and highlighting of the meaningful photos and videos, not just another hard drive with stuff that no one will edit or watch."
A versatile camera seems to be the compromise that the sector is heading for. Such products have already appeared on the scene, and generated similar amounts of hype and crowdfunding support as the original Autographer and Memoto did in lifelogging's heyday.
The greatest success story is one you may have heard of – the Mofily YoCam. At the beginning of this year, Mofily raised a total of $1,875,594 across Kickstarter and Indiegogo for what they described as a "life camera". Though YoCam comes with life-logging functionality – it can be clipped to clothing, and if you hold the button for two seconds it will start taking pictures automatically – this is not its only purpose, nor even its primary one.
"YoCam is capable of almost everything you can imagine a camera can do," says Ray Yang from Mofily. "It's very portable, it is waterproof, and it's very user-friendly with a form factor design."
Early reports indicate the YoCam has gone down well, so much so that Ray says Mofily is already planning its successor to launch in 2017. It's early to say whether it has real legs, but it and the new Narrative Clip 2 seem to have learned the lessons from the Autographer and its ilk – lifelogging is a fine and noble pursuit, but you need to offer a broader experience to be anything more than a novelty. Lifelogging cameras never died exactly, but by necessity they evolved.