Microsoft today launched HereHere, a new project that blends data analytics and social media to alert users to issues affecting their neighborhoods and improve how they engage with their communities.
HereHere originates from Microsoft Research's Future Social Experiences (FUSE) Labs. The mobile-friendly platform delivers selective and relevant status updates pertaining to local happenings that mimic social messages sent by friends. Its companion Website HereHere.co allows users to further explore their neighborhoods and the issues affecting them on an interactive map.
The service is the latest example of Microsoft's growing interest in analytics-driven, location-based tech. In February, it invested $15 million in Foursquare, as part of a deal that grants Microsoft access to the company's crowdsourced "places database" with 60 million entries. In a Feb. 4 statement, Foursquare said, "when you use Microsoft devices powered by the Windows and Windows Phone operating systems and products like Bing, places will be enhanced by Foursquare—to provide contextually-aware experiences and the best recommendations of any service in the world."
For its debut, HereHere turns its lens on New York City. It derives its data from 311, the city's non-emergency help, information and municipal services hub; 311 bases its own data stream on the thousands of phone calls, emails and texts received by the agency each day.
HereHere then analyzes that data, identifies the most critical and compelling 311 requests, and issues texts as humans would communicate what's happening in their neighborhoods. "Think of it as a meta-status update for the day—a simplification of issues in your neighborhood compressed into a text that you might get from a friend," said Microsoft Research's Kati London, a senior researcher.
Instead of inundating users with constant barrage of updates and neighborhood statistics, HereHere was designed to engage users in a more relatable manner, explained London. It attempts this with little flourishes (Cool!, Rolls Eyes, etc.) and natural-language texts, which are displayed on the Website, emailed to subscribers and tweeted on neighborhood-specific Twitter accounts.
"Characterization helps bring immediacy and a human scale to information," said London. She added that HereHere is "giving a human voice to the neighborhood, which, hopefully, will stimulate conversations about issues.
HereHere is a work in progress. "For HereHere—or for any research project—there's always more functionality to build. It's an iterative process that requires feedback," said the company in a statement.
Microsoft indicated that while it's still early days for the tech, HereHere is a stepping stone for helping users make sense of the Internet of things. "We believe that if everyone can relate to complex data analysis and results in more human terms, we might have a better shot at using the data and sensors to anticipate new troubles and solve meaningful problems," said Lili Cheng, general manager of FUSE Labs in a statement.