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.

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." :)


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?

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.