Everyone’s talking about sustainability in terms of what we buy and what we throw away. But what about the objects we’re not using? For years, Microsoft ran a contest for developers called PhizzPop. It consisted of a short sprint to answer a specific brief using Microsoft technologies to solve a problem. We entered the contest in 2009, when the final round was set in Austin during SXSW. That year, the question at hand was, “How would you use current technologies to help Austin become more sustainable?” We knew that the worst thing you can do to answer a brief is to march in and tell the client to do something they’re already doing, so we started with a deep dive into their ongoing efforts at sustainability. It turned out those efforts were expansive and being carried out on every level, from government to individual. We had just two weeks, so we got to analyzing. What we found was that the efforts tended to center around what people were throwing away and what they were buying, with little focus on the possessions that people already had. There was our white space, and we went for it.
We developed Usemore to innovate the way that citizens of Austin interacted with the objects they already owned. Using social networking technology and GPS functionality, we created a platform that would facilitate Austin citizens in coordinating rides, utilities and more, from their home or while out and about.
Two problems remained:
How do you get people to trust their neighbors and fellow citizens? How do you motivate people and businesses to open up their lives and share their possessions? We found that the answers were already built into the functionality of Microsoft products. To solve the first problem, we created a reputation-based system where eBay and Facebook-style recommendations would represent a person’s trustworthiness. Then we created a motivational points system that was both public and rewards-based. You could compare points between businesses, motivating them to up their social standing by participating more. Regular citizens could save up their points and use them to pay for something like new truck licenses. On a large scale, the system could actually show how efficiently the city itself is performing at a given moment, and help companies qualify for LEED certification. Best of all, it’d be a platform that other cities could use and customize.
We Won! The celebration extended all the way back to Minnesota, where our friends and families had gathered at Cosmos for a cocktail party to watch the contest. When the news dropped that we won, toasts were held and things got sloppy! The city of Minneapolis eventually approached us about the economic development of a similar program here.