Relive your greatest social media hits with Timehop

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A whirlwind trip to Manhattan. An exciting job offer. An exhausting hunt for a shoebox-sized apartment in San Francisco. I remember the big events of summer 2012, but the little moments get lost in the shuffle. An iOS app called Timehop reminds you of your life’s milestones while also retracing Friday night check-ins at your favorite bar or tweets about the show you’re binge-watching on Netflix—things you would otherwise forget.

Timehop is the scrapbook we can’t be bothered to begin. The app, which began in 2011 at a Foursquare hackathon, collects your updates from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Foursquare, Flickr, and even Dropbox to remind you daily of brunch check-ins, wedding shenanigans, and that photo you took that day your niece was looking extra adorable.

You can sync your computer's photos to Timehop with the Sync client for Mac or Windows.

But it’s more than just a digital photo album. It’s easy to write off apps like Timehop or Facebook’s “On This Day” feature, which resurfaces milestones from your life and your friends’ lives, too—as just fun little timewasters. A social media archive we can easily comb through, and maybe even learn from, could be more valuable than our drunken Foursquare check-ins and silly Facebook photos would have you believe.

An app is born

Jonathan Wegener and Benny Wong developed Timehop as a daily email digest of Foursquare check-ins called FourSquareAnd7YearsAgo. The pair envisioned the service as a social media version of Mario Kart’s Ghosts—instead of seeing transparent drivers racking up high scores, you would instead see a version of yourself checking into places. You could watch yourself gallivanting around town a year ago, and remember the fun times you had back then.

Timehop lets you recall your classiest moments.

The ghost concept was great in theory, but proved cumbersome—users had to register for two Foursquare accounts, one for everyday use and one to watch their ghosts. The cofounders refined their FourSquareAnd7YearsAgo from a gamified Foursquare service to a daily look back at your social updates, and changed the name to Timehop.

Timehop sent out daily digests of your year-ago posts and photos—and even ones from two, three, or four years ago—but discontinued those emails in favor of an iPhone app last October. The change was unpopular with some users, especially those who use Android—Timehop is working on an Android app but has no release date—but CEO Wegener said mobile is the focus going forward. That approach is paying off: More than a third of Timehop’s registered users open the app on any given day.

Making memories more social

Right now, Timehop users can only see tweets, Facebook posts, and photos from the same day in previous years, so if you miss a couple days, there’s no way to catch up. Wegener said that will change. The CEO also wants to turn Timehop into its own social network, instead of simply drawing material from other social networks.

“We want the app to feel like trading baseball cards,” Wegener said. “You’ve been dealt a hand of cards, your content from that day, one year ago, two years ago. You have the option to pass that card around to friends or collect cards from friends.”

Eventually, Timehop users will be able to rope in friends and family to have private conversations about past events or old-timey photos. Privacy is important for a social network that has access to the memories you’re reliving online. And let’s be real: Not very many people care about sifting through your old photos—except maybe your mom.

“There are public elements, maybe pushing to Facebook and Twitter, tagging those photos,” Wegener said. “But we primarily see it as private first. Partially because your content is private. The past for some reason just feels private. The more important part is that the past is not always interesting to the public. Your vacation photos from five years ago probably aren’t interesting to your friends, because they weren’t there. The most powerful audience are the people who were there, the people who experienced it.”

The unexamined life

Editor Susie Ochs remembers her son's childhood with Timehop.

Your experiences aren’t that interesting to people who don’t know you, but they’re worth some self-reflection. Social networks offer real-time, constantly changing snapshots of our lives, but it’s difficult to get any sort of perspective on a life—Facebook’s off-the-cuff updates and Twitter’s 140-character limit don’t exactly encourage thoughtful examination.

Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, said social media is too easily characterized as narcissistic. It’s true that teenager selfies and Instagrammed lattes are ripe for mocking, but those small updates add up to create a life story.

“Life isn’t all exciting,” Rutledge said. “Life is a series of events that altogether create a sense of who you are and what you’re about. That narrative is crucial to our identity. It also shows how you’ve been making change. I think people like looking back and seeing that progression in themselves.”

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