The Social Consumption Project

I just submitted a grant application to the City of Charlottetown Micro-Grant Community Initiative for an idea I’ve come to call “The Social Consumption Project.”

I propose to undertake to develop the prototype of a system that would allow households to, at their option, expose data about their water and electicity consumption to the web, turning consumption data into a “social object” that can be shared in the same was as weight loss data, fitness data, and “here’s what I had for dinner” data has come to increasingly be shared online.


Under the “please explain what is unique and creative about your project” section of the application I responded:

There are many ways to reduce consumption: education, legislation, rationing, pricing. This project seeks a simple approach, leveraging our increasing propensity to gather and share information about our daily lives through applications like RunKeeper, FitBit, and on blogs, Twitter and Facebook.

Our hypothesis is that two things – the mere fact of monitoring consumption itself, and the social pressures and “game mechanics” of sharing consumption data – can work to lower consumption.

Our project has the virtue of being low-cost, easy to manage, and fun to participate in, which are three elements not often found in behaviour-modification projects surrounding consumption.

Technically my working assumption is that it should be possible to interogate the Itron meters used by Charlottetown Water and Sewer and the Itron meters used by Maritime Electric using the Digi ERT/Ethernet Gateway and configure the gateway to forward data to a server where it would be archived, visualized and turned into something that householders could share, compare absolutes and trends with others, and so on.

I’m happy to have secured the cooperation of both Charlottetown Water and Sewer and Maritime Electric in helping to make this happen, and support from my colleague Scott Bateman in the UPEI Department of Computer Science and Information Technology and from the PEI Energy Corporation. I also owe a debt of gratitude to Martin Spindler, a conversation in Berlin over lunch with whom, back in 2011, got me thinking about this sort of thing.

If the grant application is successful, I’ll start work in August and the project will run through December.

You can review the complete grant application here (1.8 MB PDF).