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How personal informatics are engineering coincidence,
lowering environmental impacts
and forging a new golden age of travel
Hello, I’m Matt Jones. Amongst other things, I’m the design director of a service called “Dopplr”.
The theme of this year’s Reboot - “Human?”
“Voyage, travel, and
change of place
Lucius Annaeus Seneca
So - Why travel? Seneca says...
Travel is something we seem compelled to do as a species. To trade, to experience, to escape.
Travel was, after all, something that was special, exciting
This is a clip from an Australian satirical/topical comedy show called “The Chaser”. You can watch it
Also, most of us are worried about the impact that travel, especially air travel is having on this
“Travel is fatal
So, should we stop travelling? I would say not, but we have to ﬁnd ways to maximise the eficacy
and pleasure of travel for minimum impact.
Let’s Unbreak It
When we ﬁnd something broken, a typical human response is to use our technology and ability to
think in systemic ways to ﬁx it.
I want to show you a little movie for a minute or two... It’s a timelapse movie of a modern shipping
port. What’s making all this possible? Information technology. This is a clip you can see here: http://
Standardisation and automation - around things like the shipping container allowed all the
eficiencies and massive scale that information technology could bring to the global transport of
For more on this revolution - read Marc Levinson’s “The Box”...
I’m not suggesting we literally slavishly copy the successes of container shipping...
But we’re in the throes of two major mega trends that might also mean we can take advantage of personal versions of
those informatics to redesign travel. The world is becoming digitised, and humanity is becoming urban. As you can see by
this picture by Timo Arnall, this is something I’m a little obsessed-by, and have spoken about a lot.
Source: United Nations, World Urbanization Prospects, The 1999 Revision.
It is expected that 60 percent of the world population will be urban by 2030, and that most urban growth will occur in less
The world is becoming a mixed digital/physical place. Things and environments are becoming suffused with information.
Bruce Sterling’s Shaping Things and Adam Greenﬁeld’s “Everyware” - guides and manifestoes for the world of digital/
physical hybrid things and places we’re entering...
This growth in personal informatics I believe (with many others, as detailed in those books) will lead
to many downsides - seen and unforeseen - but also a large upside, in the increase of serendipity
in the world... (poster from ICA exhibition 1968)
looking in a haystack
for a needle and
Julius Comroe Jr.
I want to illustrate some of the things I’ve been talking about by showing you Dopplr, a service for
frequent travellers that I’ve been working on over the last few months.
Dopplr is an online service for frequent travellers. It was created by an international team of world travellers as a tool for our
own use. We liked it so much that we decided to open it up to our global friends.
If you travel more than ﬁve times a year and have friends who do as well, then Dopplr is for you.
How does Dopplr work? It lets you share your future travel plans with a group of trusted fellow travellers whom you have
chosen. It also reminds you of friends and colleagues who live in the cities you're planning to visit. You can use the service
with your personal computer and mobile phone.
Here’s my page on Dopplr. You can see that I’m in the throes of my trip to Copenhagen for Reboot.
You can also see that 25 of my fellow travellers (what we call people you trust to see your trip plans
and vice-versa) are going to be there too.
I can expand that to see who they are - also, if I have fellow travellers I know who live in that city.
You can click on the tabs to get dierent views, such as this nice “indiana jones’ style view of your
Dopplr is city-centric, so clicking on Copenhagen shows the view of your fellow travellers from the
point of view of the city, so to speak...
We’ve just gone to our Beta release this week, and added some new abilities for our users. This is
our ‘manage connections’ view, where you can see how you are connected to your fellow travellers.
Here you can ﬁnd whose trips you can see, who can see you trips and new travellers on Dopplr that
you might want to share your plans with. Notice that you don’t ‘add’, ‘remove’ or ‘deny’ anyone in
Dopplr - you’re sharing a stream of information about the future, so you just stop, start or even
‘mute’ that stream to or from someone. More polite we think.
The ‘new travellers on Dopplr’ view brings you a list of people that your trusted fellow travellers
have invited - just one degree of separation away, allowing you to discover common acquaintances
you might want to share your trips with. It’s worth again stressing that you share your trips with
people you trust, and there is no pressure to share back if you don’t want to.
One last thing while I’m giving you a tour- we’ve got a blog which will have announcements, design
discussions and more on it.
So that’s our Beta release. It’s always going to be invite only, but you can request an invite from
http://www.dopplr.com. We will be restricting our invitations from time to time while we continue
to build the service, so please be patient...
Some stats since we’ve started
On any given day, around 10% of our travellers are in transit.
The average traveller lists 4 or 5 trips.
215 different cities are listed as home by our travellers.
Top 10 home cities: London, SF, New York, Helsinki, Boston, Paris, LA, Seattle, Barcelona, Tokyo
But as you can see from this ‘sparkline’ of Copenhagen, Reboot has made quite a spike!
In the last part of my talk, I want to very quickly connect some thoughts together that we had in our
mind while designing Dopplr, and the theme I started with...
is about the future, which you can’t
is a catalyst, creating possibilities
We see our focus Where next? use information you share as a catalyst to increase serendipity
as letting you
within your network next?
towards simple benefits, instead of “features”
‘Feature Creep’ is a constant temptation when building a system. We’re trying very hard not to add new features - instead,
we’re trying to make things easier, more powerful, and more ﬂexible for our fellow travellers.
We prefer to talk about adding ‘affordances‘ - additions and improvements to the tool-like aspects of the service that amplify
the beneﬁts of using of the service and our end-goals: increasing serendipity in the world around your travels.
is a feature of a larger service, called the Internet
Yes, it’s simple - perhaps just a feature... of a larger system called “the Internet”. Connected to my
last point we’d rather plug into and hand-over to all sorts of other parts of the web that do what
they do brilliantly rather than loose focus on the prime beneﬁt we bring: increasing serendipity. The
image of a Coral Reef refers to Dave Winer’s analogy he used here: http://www.scripting.com/stories/2007/04/28/
All very wonderful, but how does this lower the impact of our travel on this place...?
LET ME MAKE THIS VERY CLEAR!!! We should be under no illusions that the best way to reduce the
impact of our travel on the environment is to just not travel as much. Services like Dopplr build a
model of your future, allowing you to reﬂect on that model - and perhaps ﬁnd ways to cut back. For
... you might ﬁnd that your coincidences in that model of the future with fellow travellers reduces
the need for other planned trips - get in touch with them and move a meeting to when you’re all in
the same place.
We’re going to work more and more on tools and visual aordances that highlight coincidences and
increase serendipity, to support this.
Another possible way we can possibly reduce the impact of travel: information can shrink distance.
This is an anamorphic map of europe deformed by travel times on the high-speed rail network.
Knowing this, having this model, would you change your plans from ﬂying to using the train?
We’re showing near-neighbour places in Dopplr so you can choose to visit near-by places or
combine visits to reduce trips. Here’s some information on neighbours of Brighton, should you
really want to visit Slough, ever...
We have some other plans for helping travellers reduce their environmental impacts that will be
coming soon, but in the mean-time we’re also going to be releasing an API to Dopplr to allow
others to develop interesting new ways of using their personal informatics.
“The real voyage of
not in seeking new
landscapes but in
having new eyes.”
So - our hope that is through examining travel through new eyes we can in some small ways help
forge a new, responsible, sustainable and pleasurable golden age of travel.