One thing the internet has given us that’s truly life-changing is crowdsourcing (and funny cat videos, obviously – but for the purposes of this week’s column I’ll focus on the crowdsourcing).
Unless you’re religious, the collective knowledge of people is the closest thing we have to omniscience at our fingertips. It’s also a reminder of the helpfulness of folk – I’m always amazed and pleased that people bother to answer questions on forums, on anything from “How do I resize a photo?” to “Is it OK to boil headphones?” (a real question asked on Yahoo answers, and the responses were more thoughtful than you might imagine).
Since my Guardian Live Better challenge is to seek out apps and gadgets that help me – concerned yet clueless as I am – to live a greener existence, I was intrigued by the idea of Conscious Me : a site which claims to crowd source, as the founders put it, “great stuff that’s happening in the world”. It has 13 categories including health, business, and travel – but the one I’ll be pillaging is environment.
So how does it work?
You’re walking around your town and you come across something you think helps the environment – a renewable energy supplier, a home built from recycled shipping containers, or a giant solar bridge – and you decide that a) it’s great, and b) it matters. You upload the location, description and a picture to Conscious Me for others seeking the greener things in life. If people agree that it matters, they will advocate it by clicking the “it matters” button (Conscious Me’s version of the Facebook “like”). The entries which are “mattered” the most float to the top of the feed.
There’s also a fully responsive map function on the site. Type in your location and, with time and luck, things that matter should pop up all over it.
Online reviewers are very thin on the ground as Conscious Me is only a few weeks old.
My own verdict: the minus points
• It’s brand new, so it’s not comprehensive yet. I did a few random searches and found (at the time of writing) there was nothing in Yorkshire, only three listings in the whole of Africa (all in Kenya), very few listings of any category in New York City – and while London has a lot of listings, only three of them are environmental (though a low-carbon parcel service is a brilliant start). Still, at only a few weeks old, my complaining should be replaced by encouraging people to build it up with their contributions.
• The matter button is supposed to make the process meritocratic, in that you only “matter” something if you agree it matters. My worry is that it will be open to the same marketing abuse as similar social media functions. Will you be able to acquire “matters” the way some grubby organisations lobby for likes on Facebook or buy Twitter followers?
• Location, location, greedy location. Another potential issue with the “mattering” function – things that are “mattered” the most may just be those most often visited, meaning entries which float to the top won’t necessarily be the best things going on, but the ones in the locations with the highest footfall. The unfortunate outcome could be an alright entry in London hogging all the attention while a scintillating entry in Herefordshire gets overlooked.
And the plus points
• The potential is global. It’s early days, but with entries coming in from the UK, Oman, Iraq, Kenya, the US, France, Qatar and South Africa to name but a few, the site is already on its way to becoming a rich worldwide resource.
• There’s no Conscious Me app yet, so if you’re out and about you’ll have to open the map on a browser – but hold tight, because the founders say the app will launch in early summer.
• What you see on your feed isn’t as random as it appears when you first click on the Environment tab and see everything from responsible fishmongers in Chelsea to wolf conservation in Wyoming and wild beavers in Devon. You can follow people who have similar interests to you – if you’re passionate about low-impact travel, for example, you can follow others who are, and you’ll be alerted to whatever they find.
• There’s also a search function, which combined with the follow system means the site can work for anybody, depending on what you like and what sort of life you lead. If the decline of plankton doesn’t interest you (you heartless bastards), there’s never any need for it to pop up on your screen. If you’re interested in low-carbon postal services, however … bingo.
Conscious Me has the potential to be an incredibly useful global resource, and a brilliant way of pooling our collective knowledge of all the marvellous things happening in the world. But until there are more listings in the environment, it might be tricky to use as a “living greener” tool. My hope is that in the future, when I’m out and about and I want coffee I can look for an ethical cafe that puts its coffee grounds in a compost heap somewhere close by, or when I need vegetables I can get ones that are grown organically in a skip. So, consider this a rallying cry. I want skip vegetables, and I want them soon.
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