Why Buckminster Fuller Would Love These New Apps

Last Updated Oct 8, 2010 7:22 PM EDT

This morning kicked off the start of the two-day Vimeo (IAC) festival at IAC's headquarters in New York, and one of the most interesting sessions featured two startups that are brilliantly collecting data on our everyday lives: one called SosoLimited and another called Daytum.

The two are very different. SosoLimited, the product of three MIT graduates, is an amorphous project that is part business and part artistic endeavor. It works much like closed-captioning does, transcribing words that are said on a piece of video. But its creators have taught it to run all kinds of analytics on those transcriptions, and then represent them graphically. The New York Times covered one of their installations during the 2008 Presidential election, in which they tracked the words most frequently mentioned during the debates.

Now SosoLimited says they're considering building a set-top box that would connect in-line to your television, drawing data about what's being said on your screen. This goes way beyond the mere novelty or snark of watching politicians repeat keywords. Imagine the potential for applying this technology to, say, a college lecture. Students could see which words and phrases the professor repeats most adamantly, or with the most emotion; Soso can also detect "emotionality" in a human voice and display those words larger than the rest. (Check out the video below for an example.)


Prime Numerics Reel from Sosolimited on Vimeo.

The second startup, Daytum, allows people to log almost every action in their daily lives: who they meet, what they eat, where they go, and what they buy (among a zillion other things). The site is about to launch its first iPhone app, which will open Daytum up to more mainstream use. (Right now, Daytum relies on submissions via its mobile website and Twitter.)

Daytum is, at heart, an analytics engine that lets you graph whatever activity you want, or even load in a dataset from elsewhere and graph that. One example used on the Daytum site is a Daytumized view of Nintendo's 2008 annual report, which looks like this:


What's important about these two startups is that they represent the next logical progression in the "data" craze that might come to be a big part of the next generation of software. Look across the "app" industry, and you see a significant swell in consumer-level data measurement. Mint.com (INTU) already lets you graph your spending; Foursquare lets you graph your social life by venue; Sleep Cycle lets you graph your REM sleep; RunKeeper lets you graph your exercise distance and speed, and other products (like the Withings scale) allow you to graph other kinds of physical metrics like weight and BMI, creating what could be called a "Body API," or an Application Programming Interface that connects your body with your computer or smartphone.

Buckminster Fuller, who famously created his hand-written Dymaxion Chronofile to track all the activity of his life, would be proud of such obsessive self-report data. He collected a stack of scrapbook documents that tops 240 feet when stacked.

Then again, perhaps there are certain charms to seeing your own behavior as a mystery.

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