Adjacent Entities for Competitve Analysis: Introduction
I have divided up “the competition” into six categories: Frameworks/APIs, Incoming/Outgoing Data Management, Environmental Visualizations, Backup & Cloud Management, and Electricity Consumption. They are charted along a Physical/Digital spectrum paired with six verticals: Practical vs. Abstract, Social vs. Individual, Real Time vs. Summary, Expert vs. Layman, Stationary vs. Mobile, Commercial vs. Residential. My thesis projects are added on each of the six main charts to illustrate their attributes. I also performed an audit of consumer labels (e.g. WindMade) and offset programs, but these categories are not mapped as they do not fit the selected cartesian axes.
Of the few dozen entities, there are two projects that can be considered “direct competitors”, both student projects and in the Environmental Visualizations category: Mark Nystrom’s Carbon Emissions Project (2005) and Elwyn Murray’s Carbon Bytes (2011). As a public installation at the RISD MFA show, the Carbon Emissions Project sought to bring awareness around CO2 output, using 540 of black balloons to illustrate an individual’s carbon output per day (62 pounds). Carbon Bytes is an iPad app exploration of Mr.Murray, tracking personal online habits and consequences, such as hours online, downloads, and CO2 output.
It should also be noted this is not a traditional competitive analysis nor fully inclusive of all products/services in any given category. Furthermore, this study is a soft science, and is an exploration of adjacent industries to determine mediums, audiences, techniques, and functionality that may apply to my own thesis projects.
Practical vs. Abstract
Natalie Jeremijenko creates amazing projects that expose the mystery of natural systems and use their process to illustrate our impact on the environment. While a few are conceptual and abstract, they serve as entry points to discussions around our relationship with nature. The purpose of my abstract projects are also to serve as a gateway around related topics: At Capacity on limitations of storage and bandwidth, Carry Your Cloud on storage as digital attics, Seed Cloud on signifying data creation, and the Coal Button on CO2 emissions from digital behavior.
Social vs. Individual
For my main thesis project, Cumulus Alpha, I want it to be easy-to-use, mobile, practical, and social; Berlin-based Changers and stateside OPower are doing all four. Changers is an innovative startup that sells portable solar panel units that can power personal electronics. Users can broadcast how much energy he/she has created as well as CO2 prevented from being released on their social networks. Likewise, OPower uses normative comparison whereby we compare our status with people similar to ourselves (friends, family), and want to “normalize” our behavior by comparison. Already implemented on their paper reports and online dashboard, OPower will also use normative comparison in their upcoming app, in partnership with Facebook and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
Commercial vs. Residential
The focus of my thesis is an individuals ability - based on environmental impact - to consciously produce, distribute, and dispose of digital content. In doing so, all of my projects and prototypes are under the Residential category. Social features such as normative comparison and real time feedback from physical devices are distinctive attributes that I will include in Cumulus Alpha.
Real Time vs. Summary
Unique to online behavior when to electrical consumption, we have the ability to track usage in real-time. With cloud-based service providers utilizing virtualization, they can determine if a server is about to crash due to a spike in online traffic, and shift that load to other servers. This capability is a dream for utilities: we all crank our air conditioners during peak-hours on hot summer days, leading to potential blackouts. While smart meters hold the promise of real-time electricity management, only 13%-18% of homes in the U.S. have them installed.
Many of the physical devices such as Giles Belley’s EDF Semaphore and Energy Saving Adaptor signify electrical consumption in real time. While they are conceptual pieces, their abstract nature is surpassed by the practicality and function. In developing Cumulus Alpha, I hope to create an interface that offers real time utility while being aesthetically pleasing.
Expert vs. Layman
The majority of the entities I audited fall into the Layman category, as many are for residential use. Those in the Expert category are APIs; enterprise-scale software such as Cisco’s IOS NetFlow; and the Institute for Sustainable Communication, creating a framework of standards for the advertising industry. Meaningful change can occur from the top-down or the bottom-up, and I because prefer the latter, I hope to create awareness and provide tools for individual users to become advocates for sustainably powered cloud-based services and products. Easy-to-use products such as OPower’s Social Energy App and Simple Energy’s Social Game are accessible with a Facebook Connect, intended for the majority. My abstract concepts intend to follow the STATIC! Power Aware Cord’s simplicity.
Stationary vs. Mobile
Many of the traditional forms for electricity and data monitoring and communicating environmental impact are stationary. However, traditional forms such as the electric bill are highly portable, but are a summary of activity. Recently developed applications from OPower, Efficiency 2.0, and Simple Energy can be access through a smart phone, but the content - electricity use - is still in a summarized format. One new product on the market, the Nest thermostat, allows for users to control heating and cooling from a mobile app. While a few of my prototypes and projects fall in the Stationary category, my main project will be an iPhone app allowing for remote access and action.