The Quantified Citizen. The Quantified Commute. The Quantified Bus Stop. The Quantified Park. The Quantified Marathon. The Quantified Parade. The Quantified Street Fair. The Quantified School. The Quantified Building. The Quantified Intersection. The Quantified Block Association. The Quantified Dogwalk. The Quantified Jog. The Quantified School District. The Quantified Neighborhood. The Quantified City.

You can't improve what you don't measure.

And we believe NYCDataWell can help jumpstart this process. And by feeding and tapping a River of Data, all kinds of Innovations will be made that will vastly improve our daily lives.

Of course, there will be aspects of privacy and data ethics that will need to be worked out. But it shouldn't be that hard - as it is, we already surrender vast amounts of personal information to corporate giants like Google, Facebook and just about anything that's advertising supported (and we are even exposed to ads when we pay for something - witness cable TV, movies, etc.)

So why not use this same data for better, Smarter Government?

AuthorJoel Natividad

Once a City Positioning System is deployed, one very interesting usecase that should be on the shortlist is the Quantified Commute.

Through the NYCDataWell Launcher App, a user can register Work and Home locations as well as the timings of the typical workweek schedule. 

With enough users, the MTA can really do super-efficient allocation of transportation resources.  And with the City Navigation System enabled and powered by the CPS, the City can even do proactive notification and re-routing as illustrated in the NYCDataWell Story when the Dad was automatically notified of a changed bike route when the City's emergency services had to close down a section of Broadway.

The City can even track multi-modal commute patterns based on heuristics (3mph - walking rate; connection times between transfers, may it be subway-to-subway or bus-to-subway; recognize when the commuter is in a car, taxi or biking, etc. etc)

This usecase alone, in our opinion, justifies the installation of a City Positioning System and makes a compelling case for something similar to the DataWell.

When you turn off your smartphone' Wi-Fi, you'll notice that apps that require location services become less accurate.  On IOS, the operating system will even prompt you to turn on Wi-Fi again to get better accuracy.

What does Wi-Fi have to do with location services, you may ask?

This is because companies like Google and Skyhook Wireless use Wi-Fi positioning technology to supplement GPS satellite signals, which specially in an Urban Canyon like NYC, do not work reliably.

The thing with this technology is that it depends on having a reliable census of the Wi-Fi routers in an area.  Though routers, once deployed, do not necessarily move, the technology only gives you a resolution of 10-20 meters, not accurate enough for dense urban environments like NYC.

With chip manufacturers already manufacturing chipsets that support high-resolution Indoor Positioning Technology, registering DWs down to the last inch allows higher-precision.

And doing so will enable a whole slew of super-accurate, hyperlocal usecases and business models.  Not just indoor, but underground and at the street-level too.

AuthorJoel Natividad

While walking around the City during one of our many Reinvent expeditions , we noticed things that we haven't paid attention to before.

First of all, we were surprised how many payphones there still are. None of us can remember the last time we used one.  To us, they were billboards that happen to make calls.

We also noticed that the City took pains to preserve the look of certain neighborhoods.

Union Square for instance.  It still had traditional lampposts. And even modern additions, like the Digital Display on top of the subway station entrance, were camouflaged not to draw attention to themselves.

And that's one reason why we went for modularity and chose to even have a bare-bones, plate-only configuration.


In Union Square, we envision several plate-only DWs talking wirelessly to mated devices.  Why, the City can even go for a "nostalgia" deployment that uses a turn-of-the-century phonebooth instead of the modern pole configuration we designed.

Perhaps, an NYCDataWell sticker, similar to the ubiquitous Wifi stickers can be used to let people know that DW services are available even in an unconventional, camouflaged location.

In our view, CUSP is going to be to New York City, what Stanford was to Silicon Valley - becoming the engine for Urban Informatics Innovation as it defines the "Science of Cities."

And its roster of partners is very impressive - big household names that can bring to bear tremendous resources, vastly accelerating this process.

We feel that part of the Gov 2.0 proposition is to get people away from thinking of "Government as a Vending Machine". And by actively engaging specialized communities like Developers, Civic Hackers, Students and Researchers using the DataWell as a source of information but also a target of Innovation.

But what about "regular citizens?"  They too can play a part, just by using the NYCDataWell Launcher app, regular citizens can also contribute.  How?

When we imagined the Launcher app, we also thought that the City, and CUSP in particular can use it as a "Pocket Lab."  After all, current mobile devices are bristling with sensors, and perhaps, the local Maker community (we're looking at you ITP and AdaFruit) can even create a whole slew of external instrumentation packages that citizens can deploy not only on their current smartphones, but also on their old ones.

The Launcher App will have the ability to run these CUSP experiments in the background.

Imagine CUSP publishing research packages that citizens can sign up for:

  • ambient noise measurement
  • walking pace for each neighborhood
  • hyperlocalized commute times, that they can use to fine-tune public transportation resource allocation
  • and with a weather package, maybe old smartphones can be deployed as micro-weather stations indoors and outdoors
  • the possibilities are just limitless!

And why would citizens sign up for these experiments?  They can then see the data, and how they compare with the population.  It will even have the side benefit of "behaviorally nudging" them to modify their behavior for the better.

As we pointed out in the Naming Scheme post, we gave each DataWell a "friendly" name.   Why?

  • To honor local residents and
  • As a way to "friend" DWs around the City.

And why would you want to be "friends" with a DataWell?

  • To track the hyperlocalized KNIs (Key Neighborhood Indicators) through a particular DW's website.
  • For wayfinding
  • For tracking hyperlocal offers and postings
  • For checkpointing

If you read "An NYCDataWell Story", you'll see how the Urbina family "friends" DWs throughout the City.  To track what's happening near work, school, the community center, and Abuela's nursing home.

As we keep exploring scenarios in this section of the site, you'll see how the Befriending concept plays a crucial part in the NYCDataWell proposition.

Tenacious D

Tenacious D

During one of our Reinvent Thursday earlier this year, we were brainstorming the dot.Community Bulletin Board usecase.

And John came up with this example, which is now a recurring joke in the team - "Gluten-free Guitar Lessons".

If and when the ReinventedPayphone does come about (hopefully, inspired by  NYCDataWell), we'll be looking for "Gluten-free Guitar Lessons." :)

What kind of sensors can be deployed in the City?

  1. CPS-enhanced location (location down to 1 meter, as well as altitude, and below-street level readings)
  2. Friend map states (“I need help (levels 1-10), “I’m OK”, “I’m lost”, “Mommy I’m here”, “Marathon mode”, “commuting to home/work”, “stuck in traffic”).  Friend map states automatically transition to different states based on algorithm/rules.  Can be in anonymous mode too.
  3. Citizen home/work locations.  This allows MTA to better plan rush hour patterns
  4. Ambient noise
  5. Cameras (picture and video for citizen reporting; augmented reality)
  6. Citizen identity information (for expedited access to secure areas, no need to fill out forms)
  7. NFC (for public transit ticketing, also as form of gov issued ID that private companies can use for authentication)At building entrances, tap NFC, this shows verified picture of bearer for guard to check, randomly checks with city-maintained auth server.  Businesses with high-security reqts can subscribe to mandatory confirmation service, another revenue source for the City, on top of which private security firms can build high security solutions.


Landlines and payphones are dying for a reason - they're relics of the Analog Age.

In this Digital Age, Voice is just another application. We now use freemium services like Skype, Google Voice, and numerous other VoIP services on a regular basis. Even modern-day PBXes use VoIP to carry voice.

So why not use VoIP with the Reinvented Payphone?

And even provide it for free!  Perhaps, users can place a one-minute audio call for free by viewing a short ad.   And should they want to have Times Square in the background, have a teleconference option for a nominal amount.

AuthorJoel Natividad

In the pictures of the DataWell in its base plate configuration, you'll notice that it has two "names":

  • Pinpoint Name: 17:BWY:04 - which stands for 17th and Broadway, DataWell 4, and
  • Befriend Name: Gandhi

The Pinpoint name is straightforward enough and it echoes Manhattan's grid system.  The Befriend name is voted on by the community (perhaps, the local Community Board can organize this) when each DataWell is commissioned.

For the example above, we chose Gandhi because of the Mahatma Gandhi statue in the southwest corner of Union Square on the intersection of, you guessed it, 17th & Broadway.

While we were brainstorming Naming,  we used Befriend Names like:

  • Jane (for Jane Jacobs) near her old house on 555 Hudson Street
  • Teddy (for Teddy Roosevelt)  His birthplace is just around the corner from Ecco Design's office
  • Dick (for Dick Clark) for a Times Square DataWell nearest the spot where they normally put up the New Year countdown stage
  • Ed (for Ed Koch) in City Hall Park.  And all mayors will have DWs named after them in the park.

There are 59 Community Boards across NYC.  12 in Manhattan, 18 in Brooklyn, 12 in the Bronx, 14 in Queens and 3 in Staten Island.

Community Boards are the most accessible component of NYC city government and are the main advocate of their community's residents. Why not arm these volunteers with  hyperlocalized actionable information to make them more effective advocates?

And not just advocates. With proper training, Community Board members can better harness local volunteer resources to become effective partners of the City.

supermarket bulletin board.jpg

dot.Community Bulletin Boards.  Smart electronic bulletin boards that leapfrogs Craiglist and combines the familiarity of the Bulletin Board at your local grocery.

It can even allow Mom and Pops to place targeted ads.  Something that they cannot do with the existing payphones which are too expensive for the local store.

And why not give authenticated, local residents some escalated privileges so their listings get preferential access?

The current generation of smartphones are bristling with sensors.  The current iPhone 5 for instance has:

  • 2 cameras
  • 2 mics
  • GPS
  • Compass
  • Accelerometer
  • Ambient Light Sensor
  • Gyroscope

Should the City create the dotNYC companion app we envisioned, these sensors can be put to good use.  To get pictures of potholes, measure ambient noise, track commuting times,  etc.

And as smartphones get more sophisticated, sensing capabilities can get even more sophisticated.  Old smartphones can even be repurposed as sensors.

ESTEEM is a take off STEM.  Science, Technology, Engineering, Math.  To STEM, we add Enterpreneurship and Environment/Society, making for ESTEEM.

What if we make public school education more relevant by allowing NYC students to become junior civic hackers like Pocholo in the NYCDataWell story?

Not only will it make their education more relevant (they're interacting with Open Data relevant to where they live), they're contributing to their neighborhood while exploring kidpreneurship.

Joel explores this in more detail here.


As the Tidy Street Project demonstrates, giving hyperlocalized signals to the citizenry gives them the necessary information to modify their behavior for the better.

Instead of doing this for one block for two months, why not do it at scale for the whole city?  Maybe by creating a parameterized actionboard (an actionable dashboard) that citizens can always refer to, and can even be displayed as Neighborhood Service Announcements (hyperlocalized Public Service Announcements) at the corner DW?

And even celebrate blocks that top the rankings, giving a  feedback loop to local residents.