A while back, we wrote about the Quantified Self movement: the growing phenomenon of people who measure every aspect of their daily activities — exercise, eating habits, sleep patterns, etc. — in an effort to optimize the quality of their lives.
Last week, Esther Dyson, the noted entrepreneur and space traveler, wrote an article for the online publication Project Syndicate which outlines possible benefits of taking the Quantified Self movement into the civic sphere. In The Quantified Community, Dyson argues that the movement that has people tracking their heart rates and REM patterns could have useful implications for towns and cities — even entire countries.
In the course of normal operation, communities compile a lot of information about a panoply of topics, including public health, education, voting, real estate, and transportation. By gathering this data, mashing it up, and analyzing it, Dyson thinks developers could create tools and visualizations that would display the information in interesting and useful ways for public use.
In some ways, this is already happening. The Sunlight Foundation sponsors several projects focused on open government. SeeClickFix is a open source site that lets folks report civic community issues like potholes or jammed parking meters. And what homeowner hasn’t wasted hours on Zillow or Redfin– both built largely on public data from local governments — trying to determine the value of his or her house?
One particular point of interest to us here at Labs is Dyson’s notion that local news organizations could be a catalytic force in the movement toward developing the quantified community. In many ways, local newspapers have the connections and trust with communities that can foster the development and implementation of new tools and apps. In one of Labs’ first projects, we collaborated with the Post‘s daily paper Express to develop DCRider, a mobile app which helps commuters navigate the D.C. Metro system. The app was based largely on data available to the public, married with social media activity from Twitter.
Like Dyson, we are optimistic about the vast opportunities for creating tools for the quantified community. The possibilities are endless.
For more on the data analysis and the Quantified Self, check out these Trove channels: