If your neighborhood could have one collective status update, it might look something like what Microsoft researcher Kati London has created using data from New York City’s non-emergency complaint line, 311.
London, who works with Microsoft Research’s Future Social Experiences Labs, felt that any attempt to better understand the state of a neighborhood using 311 complaints needed a more human face—a bit more New York personality, so to speak.
The HereHere research project, launched on Monday, analyzes the public feed of data that citizens send to the city government via email, phone call, or text message. The result is an interesting map that shows fun daily updates highlighting the most interesting three complaint trends from each of 42 New York neighborhoods.
People can sign up for daily email updates about their neighborhood or just play around with the map. They can also follow neighborhood-specific Twitter feeds and connect with local community boards. The goal of the project, which is mobile phone-friendly, is to spur conversations and increase the average resident's level of civic engagement.
"The idea is that we are inundated with all kinds of data in our lives, and it’s overwhelming. Characterization helps bring immediacy and a human scale to information. When the Lower East Side says it’s totally cool with a few vermin complaints, we’re giving a human voice to the neighborhood which, hopefully, will stimulate conversations about issues," London said on a post on Microsoft’s blog.
The data is processed through the lab's "Sentient Data Server," which assigns each neighborhood a personality that reacts to the latest data and longer-term trends. For example, the Manhattan area of Chelsea might be "proud" to see a major drop in noise complaints or the Southeast Bronx might be "ashamed" to see a spike in homeless person assistance requests. Other emotions, after browsing through the map, include: "intrigued," "annoyed," "smiles," "at ease," and "impressed." There’s also a daily leaderboard that compares neighborhoods and gives out awards, like "Biggest Trash Talker" (for most litter concerns) and "Sharpest Eyes on the Street," for the most reports of public safety concerns.
It's just a research project for now, so London will be working with early users to collect feedback, improve the experience, and presumably consider expanding to other cities where similar data is available.