Some unconnected thoughts on contract tracing and COVID Secure venues

29 July 2020

  1. Since the debate about digital contact tracing started, I’ve had a picture pop into my head from the Human Geography 101 module from when I was an undergraduate. It was a set of horizontal ‘tramlines’, each one representing a person, with the x-axis representing different locations - work, home, cafe etc. I think it was representing movement around New York. The message I think we were supposed to take away was that maps and grid references are not the only way of representing human movement around a place, and besides, most of us are too predictable to require a high level of resolution.

  2. The use of commercial platforms at the beginning of the crisis to “go where the users are” to share public health messages could have been the beginning of a new public service remit for commercial platforms. The effort seems to have faded. Given many are location-aware, that feels like a missed opportunity.

  3. As part of the project in 2011, we prototyped using the reach of central government’s website to surface local alerts for things like planning applications (if a user had entered their postcode for another task, and with permission). Now feels like a good time to revisit how to give local authorities the ability to push messages based on location.

  4. Back in the late 00’s, Foursquare and Gowalla were the future of location. I wonder how the track and trace and tech debate would have played out in 2010? Probably same-but-different tech exceptionalism.

  5. Crowdsourcing was in vogue back then too. Google Maps crowdsources still things like how busy busses are, but today it seems like there is less of it about (maybe all the commercially prized datasets have been collated). Who’s job should it be to crowdsource if supermarkets have hand sanitiser at the door or not?

  6. Every bus stop in London has a unique number, you can text it to a short code to find out the next bus. It’s a low(er) tech fallback in the absence of an app / smartphone. Is is naive to ask what if this, but using UPRNs as the unique code, in the context of track and trace?

  7. QR codes had been abundant and useful for some time, but there’s still a gen-x technologist snootyness about them from when they were the next big thing in digital advertising.

  8. The state of structured data about the non-public health response to COVID 19 is woeful. At work, I’ve been working with the TUC and others to start plug some of the gaps around COVID Secure risk assessment data. It’s only part of the picture though, and without a full picture, we won’t know what interventions are being stuck to, and which ones are working.

  9. I wonder what lessons the HSE could learn from FixMyStreet and WriteToThem?

  10. A few years ago, I had an attempt at building a personal assistant where the rules were written in human-readable code. One of the things I experimented with was an API that answered the question “when I am inside, do X”. The inside/outside check was based on the outlines of buildings from OpenStreetMap. Not always perfect, but probably good enough for a nudge, especially when combined with other heuristics.

  11. The various web apps that are popping to fill the gaps left by the lack of an official app are probably a data accident waiting to happen.

  12. Even some basic, consistent, design assets and patterns for venues might help create some expectations and norms. Where’s the design manual?