What Others are Doing

Probably the best article recently was a NYTimes piece by Clive Thompson on ambient awareness. It was good because it allows those who are not already involved in microblogging and the newer web tools to understand why this stuff is important. It’s the kind of article that you point people to when you want them to “get it”.

“Social scientists have a name for this sort of incessant online contact. They call it “ambient awareness.” It is, they say, very much like being physically near someone and picking up on his mood through the little things he does — body language, sighs, stray comments — out of the corner of your eye. Facebook is no longer alone in offering this sort of interaction online. In the last year, there has been a boom in tools for “microblogging”: posting frequent tiny updates on what you’re doing. The phenomenon is quite different from what we normally think of as blogging, because a blog post is usually a written piece, sometimes quite long: a statement of opinion, a story, an analysis. But these new updates are something different. They’re far shorter, far more frequent and less carefully considered. One of the most popular new tools is Twitter, a Web site and messaging service that allows its two-million-plus users to broadcast to their friends haiku-length updates — limited to 140 characters, as brief as a mobile-phone text message — on what they’re doing. There are other services for reporting where you’re traveling (Dopplr) or for quickly tossing online a stream of the pictures, videos or Web sites you’re looking at (Tumblr). And there are even tools that give your location. When the new iPhone, with built-in tracking, was introduced in July, one million people began using Loopt, a piece of software that automatically tells all your friends exactly where you are.”

Later in the article, it calls ambient awareness a kind of ESP. This is how I like to think about it.

That ESP is what a reputation standard can help reinforce. It’s your intuition, it’s your perception and judgment about people. Hopefully it wouldn’t be your only measure, but it’d go a long way in helping you understand the disconnect between how you see the world and how it actually is.

There needs to be tools to make this ESP work first. TechCrunch, a site that reports on web startup news mostly, is currently holding an expo of the top 50 startups they selected from a pool of applicants. A lot have been said to be useless, but here are a couple that piqued my interest for Galapag.us.

Me-trics strives “to be “Google analytics for your life.” By doing that, it collects data from countless places on the Web based on your activity and will let you input data like blood pressure or stress level to find correlations between something you have observed and the data you input.”

Critics say that it may require too much manual entry, a problem I’ll have with my project. It looks like Me-trics is taking a slightly different tack and playing into a health angle, instead of where I want to go which is to turn it into reputation.

FitBit is a small device that you wear with you all the time.

“The first “gadget” we’ve seen at TC50 is the FitBit, a wireless 3D pedometer and diet monitoring system that will cost $99 and connect online to upload activity levels and food intake. The device, which is getting a lot of buzz, clips to almost any piece of clothing and is almost invisible. When you pass by the wireless base station the FitBit transmits all of its collected data and transmits it to the website where it is processed. You can also add food eaten and other data and it also tracks sleeping patterns.”

Both of these companies got good marks from the panels judging them. Tim O’Reilly said he valued companies that are focused on what makes them money (sounds more obvious than it is) and what their advantage is.

That sounds like a problem for Galapag.us — its goals are pretty lofty (advocacy project for privacy/openness as well as a for-profit component) and it will require widespread adoption in order to fully work. Although I think it’d be possible to make Galapag.us work with a small number of users, by coming up with baseline standards and keeping the Galapag.us staff involved with their own Galapag.user profiles.