Peer pressure. It's back, it's social, and it's being used to get you to go green.
That is, at least, the idea behind a new app for Facebook. Released by the company Opower, in cooperation with energy conservation advocates and the Natural Resources Defense Council, the app intends to encourage users to use Facebook to share their energy use with their Friends. Right now the app works with 20 million households served by 16 utilities in California, New York, and elsewhere.
It's a new app but not a new idea, of course. Developers have been talking up the possible social benefits of "gamification" and the like for a couple of years now. In fact, the US Department of Energy announced its first ever Apps for Energy competition this week, offering a prize of $100,000 to be split among winners. As described on Energy.gov:
Apps for Energy leverages Green Button -- an open standard for sharing electricity usage information. For the competition, developers will mash-up Green Button data with other public data sources to create innovative, energy-focused apps (visit our developer page for a list of resources). Submissions can be any kind of software application broadly available to the public -- including apps for the web, personal computers, and mobile devices.
There's no denying that the technology we have available today, combined with the immense amount of data people are generating on a regular basis, can and should produce apps and solutions to help individuals make smarter choices when it comes to energy use. But overall, I think there's only so much weight developers, including those at Opower, should lend to social. The "power of social," as we love to call it, is often more myth than reality when it comes to stepping up for the betterment of society. (Conversely, the "power of social" is excellent when it comes to stepping up to send something like the "Ridiculously Photogenic Guy" meme viral. So it goes.)
Indeed, the success of the Opower app in particular will depend on a couple of factors:
The first factor is privacy. Yes, it's true that when we're talking about Facebook, it seems that most people know not what it is to "overshare" or want privacy at all. But spewing one's brain vomit and sharing one's energy use/consumption and spend on electricity are different things. Further, with everyone from insurance companies to employers scouring people's Facebook profiles (and, now, asking for direct access to their accounts) for incriminating information to use against them, perhaps individuals will begin to realize they don't want to load the social Web with information about their household energy use, and the like.
Second, for something like this to work, people have to care enough to bother to use it. They have to want to beat their Friends so badly that they're willing to change their energy use patterns. That seems more like a pipedream than reality. As someone said in a comment on NYTimes.com about the app: "Do they really think that getting an update that Rick pulled ahead of me this week in energy efficiency is going to encourage me to insulate the attic?"
For most people, probably not. Still, hurdles aside, this is, at least, a better effort than getting people to grow virtual farms on Facebook, green as those may be.
"Certainly, no one is going to insulate their attic based on peer pressure"
I agree with you that this is just an awareness campaign, with not enough motivator to act upon, in relation to energy conservation initiative that can cause household consumers to reduce some of unwanted use.
To make this app and other awareness campaigns more material in terms of energy saving, it is important that corporations too take part in conservation initiatives as they are significant consumers of electrical and gas energy in terms of %.
@pcharles - that would be a good thing! and if we can have such a rating for corporations, that would also help those who wish to support ecologically minded companies! Corporate consumption is huge, and goes largely under the radar here in US where the heaviest weight is put on consumers and their vehicles.
Nice piece Nicole -- It seems to be part education part crowd sourcing part social (network) consciousness raising. Not that we really need that but maybe we do.
I don't think it's just in NJ that SUVs abound. Westchester has an equal number as do other areas around the country. Not to defend NJ but it seems an unfair criticism. And Jeep Liberty being a far smaller car than your standard SUV gets horrible gas milage (18-20) and carries far less in passenger and cargo.
The bigger thing is for solid development of alternate sources of "fuel" that are cleaner, renewable, sustainable, and not fossil reliant foreign or domestic.
Certainly not the kind of cause that makes you want to compete with anyone really. At least not for now. Hopefully some day in the future, such apps by making us think a lot about going green, could actually introduce some prestige to the idea.
Particularly if some celebrity figures join the bandwagon with seriousness, just like Michelle Obama has done with the eating right campaign.That way it will be grounds for people to want to display on social media that they are concerned about green energy.
Certainly, no one is going to insulate their attic based on peer pressure, but this app does have some power to educate people to conserve in a collective way. It's nothing to sneeze at if millions of americans are encouraged to turn down their AC/heating by a couple degrees to save some energy...
Essentially, society can't conserve its way out of an energy crisis, but that doesn't mean conservation is useles.
I agree, Chris, with you and Nicole that anything that increases the awareness on energy use (and waste) is beneficial. Even though it may be superficial, which a lot of the "social chatter" is (i.e., Facebook), it increases the popularity.
I fully agree with Nicole that the details of energy management and sharing personal use is not an effective use of Facebook, so I do see that as another pyramid to the clouds (not THE cloud), that is a hallmark of Facebook.
By the way, in California, the energy consciousness is not much better. We still have Hummers!
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