Kermit the frog once said “It’s not easy being green.”
While he was, of course, referring to having green skin, the same adage holds true today, though the meaning of green has changed since then. If the zeitgeist of our time is not “being green,” then I don’t know what it is. More than ever, individuals seem to be trying to take environmental factors into account when fulfilling their wants and needs, and corporations are painting themselves as being eco-friendly to exploit this sentiment. But buyer beware: while many companies are indeed making strides in earnest to lessen their impact on the environment, others resort to greenwashing in order to trick consumers into buying their products or services on account of environmental friendliness. Many great sites exist to help consumers evaluate the validity such claims, but as we all know too well, the mobile web isn’t always there when we need it – e.g. when I’m at the grocery store – and it is at these points of decision that such information is most valuable.
A notable example (and I’m sure there are others) of technology usage for aiding consumers in acquiring information at critical decision points is Stonyfield Farm’s collaboration with ClimateCounts.org, which provides information via SMS about companies’ practices w.r.t. climate change. Neat idea, though their directory seems to be pretty sparse. Try it!! Text “cc” and the name of a company to shortcode 30644.
Update 8/12: The company whose sms platform technology enables the ClimateCounts service, Mobile Commons, is also used by other environmental-minded organizations, such as FishPhone (SMS ‘FISH’ followed the name of a fish to 30644 to get instant information about the sustainability index of that fish) and Bon Apétit (SMS ‘LCD’ and the name of a food to 69866 to receive a carbon emissions score for that growing/transporting that food). Innovative use of SMS, and very cool, useful services for getting this kind of information in a mobile context. I’d love to see more of these.
I know that there is a growing body of academic work devoted to leveraging technology in unique ways to support health-related decisions. Part of my Masters thesis work was about helping individuals afflicted with Diabetes make better decisions about their daily activities, by actually capturing photos or recordings of questions at the point-of-decision (e.g. “is it bad to eat this granola bar with my blood sugar so high?”), and then communicating this to their nutritionist.
I think that the always-on ubiquity of mobile phones provides a perfect opportunity to apply this same kind of model to decisions about environmental health. I often find myself in the grocery store wondering what the heck are the shades of difference between “free range,” “access to pasture,” and “organic.” And I think that many people would do good by the environment if they were empowered with the correct information to do so, even if it did entail spending a couple of dollars more. And what better way to get unbiased information (at least from a corporate perspective), then to ask other people who have been in the same situation as you? Why, crowdsourcing, of course!
Twitter is all the rage these days, but I have a hard time believing that other people actually care when I go to the bathroom, what I had for breakfast this morning, how cute I think my cat is, or any number of other whims I may be tempted to pick up my mobile phone and tweet about (though, given the insane popularity of the service, I’m obviously wrong about this ). Where I personally think that such a service can be useful, however, is in tapping the knowledge and experience of other Twitterers in getting instant answers to these kinds of questions. Unfortunately mobile browsing is not the most optimal experience when it comes to getting quick and easy answers to targeted questions. But being able to tap into the Twittersphere, to reach tens or hundreds or even thousands of others who may be able to answer, in real time, burning questions like “Is it worth paying two dollars a pound extra for beef from cattle that have been sung to?!?” This … is a powerful thing.
Now, Twitter is really based on a one-to-many model of communication: someone posts a tweet, and multiple people receive it. It is not set up for those multiple people to tweet directly with one another via a broadcast model of communication. Enter a nifty little service called GroupTweet which serves as a relay, broadcasting direct texts from a Twitter user who follows a certain account on to all the followers of that account.
I’ve been long wanting some kind of mobile-accessible service that will let me ask these kinds of questions and receive real-time answers, and the combination of Twitter and GroupTweet seems like the perfect combination to achieve this. To this end, I’ve set up a Twitter account, called inagreenpickle, which I’ve also registered with the GroupTweet service. Here’s how it would work:
1. If you run up against the same kinds of green pickles as I do, and are a Twitter user, then you’ll register on Twitter as a follower to the user inagreenpickle. I’ll also follow you (this is necessary for GroupTweet to work).
2. When you have an appropriate question, send a direct text to the Twitter user inagreenpickle. You can do this via text message using the syntax “d <user> <insert question here>” For example:
d inagreenpickle Accck! No bags! Buy new tote, paper or plastic?”
3. If you receive a tweet that raises a question that you can provide some intelligent insight into, then you can either send a direct message back to inagreenpickle with your comments to respond to the whole group, or do an @reply to the user who sent the message. I’m not sure if GroupTweet supports broadcasting of @replies, but I’ll update this when I find out.
Update 8/12: The options here seems to be either (a) direct message back to the person for a private conversation, (b) direct message to inagreenpickle to have your answer bounced directly to the group, or (c) @reply to the person who asked the question to have your answer register with Twitter as a reply. Since inagreenpickle is following you and the person you replied to, I believe that the reply will show up in the public timeline. Option (c) seems to be the best one, as it will create a sense of threaded conversation.
4. While it’s nice to have people from all over the place chime in with their experience, one of the tenets of the whole environmental movement is to act locally. So tweet local. Whether it’s soliciting local businesses or buying local produce, leverage the collective knowledge of green-minded people in your community by starting a local group to address these little green pickles.
See Twitter’s excellent help pages for more information on accessing Twitter from your mobile phone.
Any feedback/suggestions on how to mobilize this , or pointers to any existing forums which attempt solve this problem, would be greatly appreciated!
Update 8/12: There is, unsurprisingly, much interest and many requests and proposals out there for implementing groups in Twitter. LazyTweet is essentially an aggregator of Tweets sent to the Twitter username lazytweet. It is premised on the idea of the LazyWeb, which is the idea that if you’re too lazy to look something up yourself, you can just ask the web and maybe someone who knows the answer will respond. There is also a very thoughtful proposal for IRC-style channels on Twitter via the use of hashtags (i.e. #chicagogreenpickle) to create “ad-hoc assemblages of people with similar interests” who can follow a particular conversation via that hash tag.
Some may argue that adding this kind of support may violate the primary Twitter ‘rule’ of simply answering the question “What are you Doing?” but I’m a firm believer that technology is merely an enabler and should not be bound by such philosophical constraints. Like the internet itself has, I hope that Twitter will organically grow to fit whatever niche its users find it most suited to, even if this represents a variation from the framers’ original intent.
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