I saw last week that there was going to be a “social responsibility” category in the hack challenge, and decided that a CurrentCost hack was in order!
Together with Rich, we spent a day trying to hack together a competitive challenge based around CurrentCost, encouraging people to reduce their home electricity usage by making it into a game they can play with their friends.
Here are a few notes based on the presentation I gave at the end.
The device attached to it is a CurrentCost meter. It’s an inductive loop that goes around a cable into my electric meter. Every six seconds it measures the amount of electricity I’m using at home.
The large black box contains a transmitter, which is used to send the meter readings to this – the display unit.
Connect a serial cable to the port and you can get the electric meter readings in XML form.
With friends and colleagues at work, we’ve been playing with different things that we can do with this data.
For example, last week I made a start on a Windows GUI for the CurrentCost data.
Each new update can be shown as a new bar, with graphs for hourly, daily and monthly totals.
A group of us at work have worked on an infrastructure that lets us upload our meter readings to a broker out there on the Internet.
But with all of our readings in one place, we can start making more interesting uses of the data. And this is where we were when we arrived at Mashed.
You don’t just look at your own score, you look at your score compared with those of your friends.
You don’t just see if you’ve completed an achievement, you see which completed compared with your friends.
It makes games more interesting and engaging, and provides an incentive to try harder. We thought we’d try and copy that approach with the CurrentCost data.
There are a number of achievements we could define:
- Lowest single reading
- Lowest total power use
- Lowest average use
and so on.
We could also define challenges based on personal improvements:
- Lowest percentage of personal average
- Highest reduction in use
We started with Google App Engine. We wrote an app that would provide a web-based way to specify groups of CurrentCost users.
The app accesses the CurrentCost readings for these users from the broker, and analyses them against the achievements we’d defined. The scores are then stored in the Google App Engine database.
But how to report the results to users?
As our aim was to help encourage and motivate people, we didn’t want to create a whole new site as a stand-alone thing that people would have to remember to visit.
Instead, we wanted to find ways to put this in places where people already go.
Firstly, twitter. Every good hack needs a twitter element!
All members of a CurrentCostLive team could follow a twitter bot for their team, which reported scores, winners and losers as twitter messages. It could even send you @replies or dm’s with advice for how to save electricity to users who aren’t doing too well.
Secondly, widgets and gadgets. We liked the idea of modules for each achievement that could be included in people’s blogs or social network sites. If you put your electricity usage on your Facebook profile where everyone can see it, maybe that would encourage you to try and reduce your usage?
As an example of this, we tried to write a few iGoogle gadgets. The vision was that you would be able to choose which achievements you are interested in, and add these to your homepage – moving them around wherever you want.
Thirdly, on your TV. Steve Godwin was kind enough to let us reuse his (prize-winning!) hack that lets you add a twitter feed to your digital TV – so that the text comes up on screen while you watch your program.
Using the twitter feed we could set up for each CurrentCostLive team, this would let you see on TV how you and your friends are doing in your CurrentCost challenges as they are completed.
That was the idea we presented. Unfortunately, we had some hassles with Google App Engine, so some of the links between the bits needed to be faked for the demonstration, but most importantly, the idea seemed to capture people’s interest.