RewiredState DotGovLabs Developer Weekend – Introducing Playtter

Derek and I just got back from a hectic weekend spent in the company of the lovely Rewired State people at the Guardian offices in London. We were one of a select bunch of developers invited to spend the weekend hacking together apps for the DotGovLabs UK government innovation hub (closed beta, but ping us for an invite).

We took on the challenge of developing an app to support healthy living, and spent the weekend putting together Playtter – a social food diary app for improving the quality of the users’ diets.

Playtter allows users to upload pictures of food using their mobile phone camera, and then visit the website to get feedback on the quality of their nutritional intake. Web users are free to access Playtter and “tag” random meals with nutritional information, following the UK “Eatwell” healthy diet guidelines.


Nutrition data for meals is generated based on aggregation of social opinion, and Playtter can then build up a profile of a user’s typical diet over the course of their usage. Using this longer term data, it is able to provide personalised recommendations to users based on their actual diet, without the intervention of 3rd party dieticians. This opens dietary feedback to the general population, who may be at high risk of diabetes and other negative health effects based on their diet.

More information about the Playtter project is available on the RewiredState projects pages.

If you are a member of the DotGovLabs innovation hub, please visit the project page and give us comments and thumbs-up! We are very excited about the possible future of Playttr but that future won’t happen without support.

Unfortunately Playtter didn’t win any prizes on the weekend. We were beaten to the healthy living prize by the Pedalmania project, which aims to support the health of Londoners (who overdo the eels and shandy?)┬áby getting them to redistribute “Boris Bikes” . Some other great projects included hack weekender tool RapidHackr, smoking advice calculator “Smoking is Cool” and the grand prize winner “Social Media Lite” which uses the O2 Joggler to feed Facebook images into a digital photo frame (although the presumption that all older people are luddites is more than a little un-PC!).

Derek and I were particularly impressed by the quality of the apps created by some of the younger attendees – although they were a bit segregated (“the devs” vs. “the kids”). I’m trying not to sound too patronising but their work was amongst the best there (and justly rewarded), with better ideas, better scope and better implementations than pretty much all of the professional developers.

In particular we really liked the work of Josh Pickett, who seemed to be the common member in a bunch of cool projects: Community social micro-task site FixThis, RapidHackr and our favourite, “How Healthy Is…”, a website that compares Foursquare checkins to sports centres and fast food joints, and compares that with the official government stats on healthy living for that area. Really nice, simple, well executed idea, that doesn’t seem to be online yet!

Also see the delightful “ComputerText” project from the hackers in the noisy corner. This app helps encourage people to get online by using a familiar TV-style interface to translate the web: TELETEXT! You can even type 123 to see the lottery results. Barmy but excellent, winning a special “Kudos” prize from the judges.

All in, we had a great time and will look forward to more hack weekends in the future.
Day 2 Rewired State - Data Gov Labs
p.s., sorry to whoever’s desk I was using in this image – I accidentally stained the carpet with brown sauce!

also, remember to please visit the project page and give us comments and thumbs-up!

Comments

All these apps seem very good and great ideas, the only problem to me is the commitment required to get any real use out of the application.

I think most people know whether their meal is generally good for them or not, and probably make the decision to eat healthily or not before they even enter the kitchen.

Making the best decision based on what you have in stock is a better idea, although more difficult to implement in a real world scenario, possibly very social too.

Just some of my thoughts, also well done chaps!

posted by James / 12.13.10 - 20:22

Thanks for the comment James. I understand where you’re coming from – tools like you have suggested would be very useful and they do exist to some extent. The starting point for this particular idea was the finding in the literature that people typically don’t have a good conception of how healthy or balanced their diet is overall. have a look in our online publications for a paper called ” tagliatelle” – there’s reference to some of that literature in there.
Thanks again!
Conor

posted by conor / 12.14.10 - 00:37

Do you have a link to your online paper?

Thanks.

posted by James / 12.14.10 - 10:44

Hi James, the paper is available to download from here: http://eprints.lincoln.ac.uk/2429/

I agree you are right that people know they aren’t eating well but people are unwilling to face the truth a lot of the time. Especially the fact that one salad doesn’t balance out a week of chips!

The motivation stuff is a tricky one – the more commitment people give the app the more value it will have for them, and this is the same with every form of dietary intervention (and exercise, giving up smoking, etc etc).

In Playtter, we tried hard to keep the *cost* low for users – although meals are publicly visible, they are completely anonymous. there is no initial commitment to improving their diet (as there is in formal diet regimes) so it is easy to try out, hopefully any inspired continued commitment the user makes returns positive feedback by seeing that plate get healthier over time.

Hopefully the idea works in principle, then we can tweak any additional motivational mechanics once we know what the users like.

posted by ben / 12.15.10 - 22:18

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