Data, Tits & Ambient News.

Notes from week one-thousand, three-hundred and ninety

Apologies for the delay. I have been busy. Really. Just last week I went to drink a pint of beer with James Boardwell. True story. Whilst there, we briefly discussed data (every two-bit nerd’s common subject), the opportunities it’s throwing up, and how, as individuals, we’re generating more and more information every-day.

One data-driven project that uses casually created personal data is Mudlark’s Chromaroma (currently in alpha). Chromaroma is an ambient game using Oyster card transactions to gather points, discover mysteries at locations, and provide you with information about your commute. I think there’s a lot more to it than that, experience-wise, but, not being a London-based commuter, I don’t know. I’m not sure that casual competitiveness would encourage me to go out of my standard route, even Gowalla (which I’m very attached to) struggles to force me to stay on an extra bus stop*.

*Update, Toby Barnes definitely does alter his commute to score more points/achievements.

The adage of “it’s not where you’re going, but how you get there” opens up a potential relationship between Chromaroma and Gowalla: Chromaroma rewards you for the commute, whereas Gowalla rewards you for your destination. I’m a big fan of ambient (‘barely’) gaming, something you can do at the bar, or whilst waiting for someone to arrive, so I’m glad there is some development in that dead-space of routine travel.

4iP, Channel 4’s angel investment wing, has recently refocussed its emphasis to use data.gov.uk datasets for public good by plugging them into Facebook in engaging ways. The huge amount of public sector information held at Data.gov.uk is daunting to the average person, and overwhelmingly erotic to the data-hounds. Either way, it’s difficult to know where to start. The hardest thing to find out is what information is genuinely interesting and valuable to the lay-person (i.e. those people who don’t get a boner over a well visualised statistic or method of tracking information). What do they want to know, and how useful is it really?

I suggested that following The Sun’s Page 3 “News In Briefs” would provide the day’s most salient points in a tidy soundbite, and that this knowledge could then be used to plumb the public & governmental datasets for relevant content. The News In Briefs is potentially an example of future 4iP commissions. It’s ambient news for people who have no intention of reading news. They want to see tits, but may accidentally read it when they get bored. If this information can be replaced with something that will somehow benefit them, then that can only be a good thing.

James’ company, Rattle, have developed their own software (Muddy) which enables intense text-mining with rich results. You can see a fantastic example on an alpha project for the BBC, Channelography. In this light, I’ve started purchasing The Sun and updating a tumblr with the News In Briefs text (Mon-Friday, only). I think in an election year, it will at least provide some interesting information about what are considered key news items/trends by the UK’s largest-selling daily tabloid. There’s also the simple age/location/name information of the Page 3 stunners, and sniggering fun of a new rack every day.

Hopefully in a few months, we will be able to make some fantastic infographics and visualise the News In Briefs in a meaningful way. I’m enjoying it so far, even though buying The Sun sickens me to my fucking core.

In other activities:
— Finally got around to watching Moon (review: a good Philip K. Dick short story at heart with great central performance(s) by Sam Rockwell)
— Delighted with my Newspaper Club beta invite and played with ARTHR.
— Attended the Lovebytes/We Love Technology conference (separate, quick review coming shortly)

This week was soundtracked by Xasthur, Pavement & Guided by Voices

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