January 7, 2013
“If we can enhance the experience, more people will spend more of their leisure time with us.” So said Thomas O. Staggs, chairman of Disney Parks and Resorts, in this piece about a huge investment the company is making to streamline the process of visiting the mega themepark. In At Disney Parks, a Bracelet Meant to Build Loyalty (and Sales), writer Brooks Barnes details the efforts Disney is making to move visitors away from having to use cash or credit and encourage them to use a connected wristband. Disney can then mine insights into what its visitors are actually doing when they’re at the parks. It’s not a small investment: analysts figure it’ll cost the company up to $1 billion. But I guess that’s the price you need to pay these days to get first-hand, reliable data on your customers.
[Photo via Flickr/Sam Howzit. Story via Amelia Dunlop.]

“If we can enhance the experience, more people will spend more of their leisure time with us.” So said Thomas O. Staggs, chairman of Disney Parks and Resorts, in this piece about a huge investment the company is making to streamline the process of visiting the mega themepark. In At Disney Parks, a Bracelet Meant to Build Loyalty (and Sales), writer Brooks Barnes details the efforts Disney is making to move visitors away from having to use cash or credit and encourage them to use a connected wristband. Disney can then mine insights into what its visitors are actually doing when they’re at the parks. It’s not a small investment: analysts figure it’ll cost the company up to $1 billion. But I guess that’s the price you need to pay these days to get first-hand, reliable data on your customers.

[Photo via Flickr/Sam Howzit. Story via Amelia Dunlop.]

August 9, 2012

This article on Fast Co Exist was doing the rounds recently, telling the story of University of Rochester researchers tracking Twitter to tell when people are about to get sick. I’m not sure I entirely buy it: the video above seems to suggest that some people in New York are always ill, which seems reasonable in a city of millions. But it’s an interesting experiment and early days for a space that will see sophisticated developments before too long. As my colleague John Vollmer commented drily, “Soon I’ll be able to watch the next pandemic explode towards me almost as fast as I’ll be able to get a plastic bag over my head…” There now. Isn’t that something to look forward to?!

July 6, 2012
"Some of us like to share as control."

John Wilbanks spoke at TEDGlobal with an unexpected confession: he’s perfectly happy to share all of his medical data. As he puts it in the quote above, that’s the way that he takes control of his life, health and happiness. Not only that, but he thinks others might want to do the same, and that the system built to protect us in days of old has calcified and become an unhelpful practice that actively inhibits medical research. Or as he put it, not using the data available to us to understand health issues “is like having a giant set of power tools but leaving them not plugged in while using hand saws.” 

His solution is a medical commons, a way for people to gather medical data and share it freely. He describes it as ”the world’s first fully digital, self-contributed, unlimited in scope, global in participation, ethically approved clinical study.” To sign up, all you have to be is over 14 years old, “willing to sign a contract to say you’re not going to be jerk. Oh, you have to solve a Captcha too.” That’s it. What are we all waiting for?

July 5, 2012
“Tell your friends that privacy is a value of the 21st century and it is not outdated,” urged German politician Malte Spitz at TEDGlobal. Great talk in which he explained what happened when he got Deutsche Telekom to hand over the data they’d retained on him over a six month period—and the power of visualization in showing what that really adds up to.
[Photo c/o James Duncan Davidson; Graphics c/o TED]

Tell your friends that privacy is a value of the 21st century and it is not outdated,” urged German politician Malte Spitz at TEDGlobal. Great talk in which he explained what happened when he got Deutsche Telekom to hand over the data they’d retained on him over a six month period—and the power of visualization in showing what that really adds up to.

[Photo c/o James Duncan Davidson; Graphics c/o TED]

May 2, 2012
"Striiv, a newer entrant in the growing market of exercise-tracking gadgets, caters to the crowd that would rather play FarmVille or walk for charity than pore over numbers."
Using The Addictive Power Of Gaming To Make You Exercise More is an interesting Fast Company Exist piece about the burgeoning trend for those looking to “quantify the self”, that is use technology to monitor data pertaining to their own life. Now come the devices for those who aren’t perhaps so engaged with this type of health-tracking. For, as author Ariel Schwartz writes, "other fitness-starved people may not be motivated by data as an end in itself." Y’think?
Using game-inspired techniques won’t mean that “fitness-starved” people will in any way be interested in forking out $99 for a fancy pedometer, of course. But I did think the kicker to the story was interesting:  Striiv is already working with two of the four largest health providers in the United States. Linking this type of idea to some form of preventive medical outreach program, or in some way using this as another tool in a system focused on prevention rather than retroactive care could elevate this to the level of really interesting.
[Story via Beth DiLeone.]

"Striiv, a newer entrant in the growing market of exercise-tracking gadgets, caters to the crowd that would rather play FarmVille or walk for charity than pore over numbers."

Using The Addictive Power Of Gaming To Make You Exercise More is an interesting Fast Company Exist piece about the burgeoning trend for those looking to “quantify the self”, that is use technology to monitor data pertaining to their own life. Now come the devices for those who aren’t perhaps so engaged with this type of health-tracking. For, as author Ariel Schwartz writes, "other fitness-starved people may not be motivated by data as an end in itself." Y’think?

Using game-inspired techniques won’t mean that “fitness-starved” people will in any way be interested in forking out $99 for a fancy pedometer, of course. But I did think the kicker to the story was interesting:  Striiv is already working with two of the four largest health providers in the United States. Linking this type of idea to some form of preventive medical outreach program, or in some way using this as another tool in a system focused on prevention rather than retroactive care could elevate this to the level of really interesting.

[Story via Beth DiLeone.]

August 11, 2011
"Small, agile startups disrupt entire industries because they look at traditional problems with a new perspective. They’re fearless, because they have less to lose. But big, entrenched incumbents should still be able to compete, because they have massive amounts of data about their customers, their products, their employees, and their competitors. They fail because often they just don’t know how to ask the right questions."

In There’s No Such Thing as Big Data, writer Alistair Croll looks at the conundrum facing big businesses looking to innovate. He tells the story of a fervent fan of United Airlines, whose company was acquired and whose new corporate overlord had a contract with American Airlines. United surely noticed that it lost one of its best, most loyal customers, but did they do anything about it (and thus try to win a big new piece of business?) Did they heck. As Croll writes:

Companies have countless ways they might use the treasure troves of data they have on us. Yet all of this data lies buried, sitting in silos. It seldom sees the light of day.

Even overlooking the inevitable security questions that arise from new applications of customer data for a second, it’s worth thinking about this issue. And worth bearing in mind that for all the sophisticated technology involved in gathering these reams of information, it’d take a human being to decide to act on the collected patterns, connections and insights. That’s what drives innovation, and somehow I find this heartening.

April 9, 2011
Shouldn’t Eat At This Restaurant? There’s an App For That

The NYC Big Apps competition is a joint initiative from New York’s City Economic Development Corporation and the NY Department of IT & Telecommunications, encouraging local web developers to use city data to come up with interactive or technology-based solutions for the city. 

Competition organizers claim two goals:

to stimulate the development of applications that improve access to information and government transparency, making it easier and more fun to visit, live and work in the City.

and

to encourage innovation and the creation of new intellectual property with commercial potential by individuals, startups and small businesses and organizations. 

It’s well worth looking at the winners, which mesh technical skill with delightful imagination. Roadify, the grand winner, combines MTA or DOT information and alerts about routes in the city with real-time updates from those in those locations to try and smooth people’s commute. Don’t Eat At sends text messages if people check in on Foursquare to a restaurant at risk of being closed for health code violations. [Only one slight quibble, that Foursquare seems like the wrong platform for this app. If I’ve already checked into a restaurant, am I really going to turn around and walk out again? I’d much rather be able to get this update before I even leave the house.]