Web-enabled Fridge Magnets

an idea discussed in Project Haiku

In many household, the kitchen fridge becomes an ad-hoc bulletin board, reminders board; it is a visible place to pin things we don’t want to forget. It can also be a scrapbook and informal photo gallery, a playful place for notes and communication, a place to display things we are proud of, a TODO board of reminders, an address book … and more. Information is layered on, with more recent pinnings obscuring older ones. The top of the fridge may be utilized by adults in the house, the lower part given over to children. It’s a rich, organically filtered and loosely organized trove of information which is transient and inaccessible the moment we step out of the room.

I propose making fridge magnets with NFC tags pointing at a unique URL for each magnet, and an easy way to capture what is under the magnet. You could place something under the magnet, touch your smartphone to it which opens your browser to a page with view/update controls. Update is either a file upload, getUserMedia-linked control or similar to attach an image and optional metadata. Together with the timestamp on each update, this builds an archive of information and a strong mnemonic to assist in recalling and retrieving it. Knowing the information is captured and retrievable, you could feel free to throw away things that otherwise linger just-in-case.

These magnets augment rather than replace normal usage. In practice they might be used alongside conventional fridge magnets. So attaching something to the web-enabled ones adds another dimension - perhaps it’s something we want to share (if our “fridge website” is made public) or something we expect to need to archive or view from elsewhere.

This is kind of like the Quill idea - turning physical “messages” into digital ones that are easier to manage, organize, and potentially share. Maybe for this one, there’s a central device like a tablet that lives near the fridge. And that’s the controller thingy. So anyone in the family could pick it up and “organize” the fridge magnets. Also could have some a relationship between the central device and everyone’s personal phone, so you can take your magnets to go with you on the phone.

This idea also reminds me of my rant about ebook readers. We haven’t yet figured out how to turn the physical actions of book reading into anything meaningful in ebook readers. E.g., how do I remember where a specific page is when I’m reading a physical book? I might turn the book upside down and open to the last page I read. I might remember that the page I’m looking for is “a little bit earlier” in the book than the page I left off on. I might turn down a corner. I might add notes in the margin or mark pages in some way. I might remember that I spilled coffee on a page nearby the one I’m trying to remember. I might remember that the page I’m looking for is in the last ¼ of the book.

All these methods make it easy-ish for me to find the general location and then physically flip through the book near that location to find what I want. Our brains are particularly good at this kind of thing - you don’t even have to focus your attention on “remembering” for your brain to “remember” that you were approximately ¼ through the book when X happened. That relationship or pattern or whatever simply happens as a bonus of existence!

So our smart brains like physical books because they offer lots of ways to make a physical connection to memory = many methods for wayfinding. Ebook readers suck at providing wayfinding tools :slight_smile:

My point: the fridge is an equally fraught place of trying to remember where stuff is and wanting the right stuff to bubble up when I need it. E.g., I want the repair person’s card from last year buried at the bottom of a pile). So this solution is a kind of wayfinding solution for stuff you stick on the fridge.

This could exist today given a little time to put together the pieces. The ability to read NFC tags is a pretty standard feature on many android phones. A QR code printed on the magnet could be an alternative or augment the NFC tag, but it constrains the appearance of the magnet, and limits options for updating the URL.

The other aspect of this idea which is interesting is all the questions it starts to ask around publishing information from your home to the web. How to secure it, who gets to see it, who gets to edit it? Do our existing social network connections apply when it comes to sharing information like this? Or do we need a different “membership” model more analogous to the filtering we apply when we decide who to visit our homes? How does your home participate in the physical web? Or does it not? In the same way that we might post a sign in the garden or window indicating our stance on some issue, we might share content from our homes onto the public web.