Beanbank – What’s important to you?

Beanbank is an online data capture tool which uses playful ‘beans’ as tokens for asking ‘What’s important to you?’. Beanbank takes a cheeky look at what data you are happy to give away when you ‘spill the beans’ everyday as an internet user. What’s important to you? – Play Beanbank By turning Beanbank into a game with  a score, a reciprocal and participatory model is established. Beanbank is giving data back to you but only after you have given something up. This is common practice for data capture and the reason why so many apps and games are ‘free’. You are then put in a position to make your own judgements about what’s really important and whether you believe that other people are really being honest about what’s important to them given the limitations of the computer interface. Scoring is a simple case of bean-counting based on everyone else’s beans. If there are 50 beanbags with ‘Love’ in, then each ‘Love’ bean is worth 50. It seems to suggest that ‘valuable’ beans are actually abundant – which contrasts with the idea that ‘valuable’ beans are in fact rare.

Emerging trends

What emerges over time is a clear set of 4 or 5 words with a high value. What is interesting by contrast is the lack of words which would seem arguably important in today’s online world. Words connected with notions of the individual, wealth, power, control, agency, data, privacy, identity, and political ideas in general. Why is that? Although Beanbank is available on the web to anyone in the world and is fairly lightweight and fast, it has not been promoted beyond a fairly small social network radiating from a culturally educated group of people in Brighton, UK. The results probably say more about Brighton than they do about what’s important to people everywhere. Beanbank is purposefully simple. There is a mixture of data fidelity and data ‘gardening’ to follow the growing metaphor established. Empty beans are deleted, lower case beans are capitalised to enable the very simple scoring to take place.

Naming things that are important

On a deeper level the game explores the power relationships and technological determinism behind how we are interacting with the world around us. The language of data and programming is significant in shaping how people respond to computer-mediated world with no human interface to enable dialogue and discussion. Programmers working to create new software are constantly naming their classes, functions and objects.  Data ‘cleaning’ also forms a big part of the work of developers dealing with databases. Normalising data involves somehow making different types of data compatible for the purpose of analysis, in the process removing, deleting or otherwise altering the originally entered data. These issues have surfaced during the making of this work.

Next steps for Beanbank

In July 2014 Beanbank will stop receiving new beans. At this point the database will be made publicly available for download as an open data source for use in data visualisations or for any other purpose. I will be taking the opportunity to pull the bean data back into the physically interactive Rootbeans game, using the accumulated value and learning from Beanbank to inform the content and direction of the game. Have a go! Spill the beans More on the techy aspects of Beanbank    

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