On Placemeter: Goodness, Power, and Data

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Essays

Today we announced an investment in Placemeter, alongside some great partners. Very exciting.

What they do, in short:

They have this crazy cool computer vision software that enables them to get really specific data from the most ubiquitous cheap sensors you can find anywhere: closed-caption television. Think about it. How many retail store security cameras, speed trap cameras, urban planning cameras, Shake Shack line cameras etc. are there in New York City right now? A lot, right? Now imagine adding all of the cameras on our old mobile devices, sitting unused in our kitchen drawers. Imagine if you got paid to take your device, turn it on and stick it on your window.

Google changed the world by indexing the digital world. What if you could index the physical world, in real time?

Now, a couple observations that are very interesting to me:

– Obviously, one wonders about Big Brother implications… That was my first thought, after all. To that point, humans never watch the video, ever. They never save the video, period. They don’t collect data from within homes, no matter what. And finally, most importantly, they are very committed to using this tool for good.

– In the spirit of using this tool for good, imagine if you were a software-oriented urban scientist? If you had realtime data about traffic, walking speeds, busy intersections, etc., what could you build? How could you make your city smarter, safer, and more humane? Placemeter is working on a platform so that anyone, from a neighborhood association leader, to an environmental pollution researcher, could build on Placemeter.

– The consumer applications are there, too. Want to know when to go to your favorite no-reservation restaurant? How about whether Dolores Park has any free spots this afternoon? Is the local court running fives while the weather is still nice? You get the picture.

There is something crazy about everyone having a meter on their window. It makes me wonder about all the iPhone photos I have accidentally photo-bombed over the years. There is a live video feed, or audio feed, covering more and more of the world, whether or not I like it. Of course, the sanctity of my privacy is very important, particularly in today’s Snowden/Assange-era, but the technology is there, and working. And lately, it’s often seen as working against us, not for us. This is one of the more interesting experiments about culture, technology, and the crowd, that I can imagine. Insight, well-collected data, and transparency are so powerful. And as with anything really powerful, the tools have no morality, just power.

And so I am so happy that we at Collaborative Fund are backing founders like Alex and Florent who are committed to using technology, creativity and, yes, power to make the world better.

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