Your picks for the best "Data for a Better Planet" ideas.

The Hive
Collective wisdom.
Dec. 10 2010 3:26 PM

Champion Numbers

Your picks for the best "Data for a Better Planet" ideas.

Illustration by Robert Neubecker. Click image to expand.

Thanks to everyone who submitted ideas for the "Data for a Better Planet" Hive. Let's start with the top vote-getters and conclude with an appealing, left-field suggestion.

How Do I Keep My Mom From Moving in With Us?
The headline writer in me likes to think that this idea leaped to the top because of its catchy title, but more likely a lot of us are worried about aging boomer parents. SimplyHome is a system that can "collect and record data of typical behaviors and activities of daily living inside the homes of older adults." It's sort of a 21st-century version of Life Call, but instead of a button to press when Grandma's fallen and can't get up, this system offers, among other improvements, a panoramic camera in her living room that the family can access via a secure Web site. SimplyHome tailors its setups to each individual, but the aggregate data would be useful for social scientists.

Games Can Save Lives!
Second place builds upon a no-nonsense, undeniable idea: Many of our health problems can be traced to a sedentary lifestyle. Neufit aims to help people become more active through voluntary peer pressure and friendly competition. In this way, it's similar to Nike+, Runkeeper, Daily Burn, the upcoming Quantter, and other "social" fitness sites. The Nike app, for example, lets your friends send messages to you through Facebook during your workout. The straightforward I Move You is also very effective.

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Trauma Prevention
The idea here is to take "information from existing sources (such as the National Trauma Database, Fatality Analysis Reporting System, National Pediatric Trauma Registry, & the Centers for Disease Control)" and use it "to create 'injury maps' illustrating the type/incidence of various injuries by zip code/county/municipality." Hospitals and EMS teams already perform this kind of tracking, but these maps would be helpful public knowledge to have. What are the most common types of traumatic injuries in my community? If I moved to this neighborhood, what kinds of situations should I watch out for? Food for the wary mind. To get a sense of what kind of impact these injury maps could have, look at this map of bicycling accidents around London.

Reputation Registry
The notion here is to create a database that records predictions made by pundits, politicians, experts, and the like, and then measure their accuracy. I salute the spirit of this idea, but the job of a pundit is get to you riled up, not to be accurate. And voting is already an effective and underused way of evaluating a politician.

Vacant Storefronts Hivemind
In the mid-2000s in Manhattan, it often seemed as if every vacant storefront became a new bank branch. This idea would try to change that: A "location-aware app could allow residents to vote on the types of businesses they would like to move in. It benefits the residents, adds value to the real estate, and reduces the risk to small businesses." Or would the city just become filled with Starbucks, Pinkberrys, and Chirping Chickens? Maybe we should vote on a range of options that takes into account businesses that already exist nearby. A good experiment to try for an enterprising landlord.

And, finally, the most impractical idea but potentially the most useful.

The Correlations Project
The description has to be quoted generously to convey the gist:

I want to see a website that lets me keep track of something simple for a set period of time, and then compares it to a database to search for correlations. For example, over the course of a week or month or year, or even on an ongoing basis, it could ask, "What did you have for breakfast today?" or "What color shirt did you wear today?" or "How many calls did you get on your cell phone today?" Maybe a daily e-mail would remind you to log in with the answers. Then it would compare the answers to other things that are already tracked such as the stock market, phases of the moon, sports scores, etc., and spit out some correlations. It could tell you "On 93% of the days on which you ate eggs for breakfast, the stock market went up." Or, "When the moon is waxing, you are 88% more likely to wear a green shirt than when it is waning." Or, "On days when you get more than 7 phone calls, the Yankees win their games."

The point of the correlations project, according to the submitter "IronicSans," is to demonstrate the axiom that correlation does not imply causation. If you look around, coincidences are fairly common. One is reminded of Paul the Octopus, who correctly predicted World Cup games before his untimely death. As data becomes more important to how we run our government institutions and our own lives, we should remember that we're prone to see patterns and links where they don't really exist. So, a hive project that teaches us to be wary of drawing hive-based conclusions. The mind reels.

Slate V: Meet a self-tracker who collects data every day about his life to compile into annual reports about himself.

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Michael Agger is an editor at The New Yorker. Follow him on Twitter.

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