CleanApp on the Mississippi
Warily, lazily, the trash keeps flowing down the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico, then into the Atlantic, and from there, eventually, to your dinner plate. It doesn’t matter if you’re a strict vegan. By this point microplastics are everywhere, including sea salt, which itself is everywhere. We are now litter-ally eating our own trash.
At CleanApp, we’re fighting to make sure this is not the new normal.
CleanApp is a U.S.-based nonprofit that develops open-source standards for litter and hazard reporting applications. As our profile says, the best way to think of our posture in this budding slice of CleanTech is to picture us as the “Wi-Fi & Bluetooth” of TrashTech and CivicTech.
Our story started in early 2013 after a walk along the Mississippi River in Memphis. The river we all romanticize and link to Tom Sawyer and American adventure was now reduced to a dirty runoff drain. From afar, the majestic Mississippi is as regal and mighty as ever; up close, the litter and pollution are heartbreaking.
Because it’s such a large river system, spot cleanups have limited effectiveness, and it’s extremely difficult (though not impossible) to implement trash catchment systems. Along the riverbank are various signs from different agencies warning you to NOT eat the fish under any circumstances. Trash is everywhere, in the water, on the shores, in the trees and in the sand. Memphis isn’t unique. The same is true in Switzerland, in Brazil, and on the foothills of Kilimanjaro.
Humans are cool cats, for the most part; but we’re a messy species. So, we decided to #ActOnLitter.
We spent many sleepless nights thinking about one question:
What is the FASTEST & EASIEST way of solving the global litter problem?
From inception, we designed CleanApp as a dynamic process, evolving with the hardware and software expectations and needs of a generation of digital natives. Our earliest sites were all Wikis, and we did everything we could to crowdsource answers to the question above. We thought, if we could just explain how easy it was to apply Wiki principles to crowdsource trash data, then surely everyone would want to do this, because surely everyone hated litter as much as we did.
This was us five years ago:
Five years on, we’re still convinced that everyone hates litter as much as we do (even the litterbugs, believe it or not, who hate seeing their kids eating someone else’s discarded cigarette butts).
Over the years, we realized that our message wasn’t strong enough. It wasn’t enough to show the world that we could crowdsource litter & hazard data. It wasn’t enough to show that we should CleanApp. We had to show everyone how and why they would be CleanApping, and far sooner than they think.
To accelerate adoption of CleanApp standards & practices, we must accept the inevitability of CleanApping as a daily practice and the inevitability of CleanApp as background tech that makes all of our lives better.
If we highlight how a global population is already (and increasingly!) using Apple Watches and Google Pixels and Samsung Galaxies “to CleanApp” on a daily basis, then we can reverse-engineer multiple pathways to even more rapid and more harmonized adoption of CleanApp tech.
CleanApp = CleanTech = CivicTech
We are motivated by several other factors, including new data showing the catastrophic effects of pollution, our own evolving views on data security/privacy, and a profound sense of wonder at the possibilities (and threats) opened up by AI.
Scaled globally, it’s clear that CleanApping is a qualitatively new internet practice, moving far beyond the realm of pure data processing. CleanApp data can be gleaned from, and can feed into, many new IoT applications where users have concrete material interactions and heightened privacy/security expectations. Blockchain technology is opening new horizons for economic gain and scientific discovery around ordinary sidewalk and playground litter.
With CleanApp, users will want to do more than just upload trash or hazard reports; they will demand to use CleanApp to expedite a response, to attempt to trace liability; they would want to potentially own and trade CleanApp data, they’d want robot responders, and so on.
At this point, we had another key revelation: the BigTech firm that launched the world’s first functional CleanApp service could effectively monopolize the budding field of CivicTech — potentially moving us towards privatization of citizen-city interactions, on a global scale. Or if not a single GoogleGlobe, then fragmented de facto monopolies at city scales: New York as AmazonCity, London as GoogleVille, Mumbai as TwitterLand, Cape Town as AppleTown, AlibaBeijing, etc.
Please take a moment to internalize that. BigTech is racing in this direction because even back-of-the-envelope revenue projections for these forms of CivicTech — 311 services, 911 services, parcel delivery services, street and sidewalk cleaning services, and so on — are astronomical. City managers love the idea of outsourcing low- or no-revenue generating municipal functions, especially if they can show that it’s done in a “data-driven” and “SmartCity” fashion. And, BigTech loves to take “low- or no-revenue” functions, scaling them globally, and then squeezing revenue out of them (think GoogleBooks). For cities and tech firms, this will be a bonanza, but at whose/what costs? We don’t yet know, but CleanApp is committed to protecting citizens’ rights to a clean environment as we undergo this transition.
Please imagine what YOUR expectations would be as a citizen who suddenly finds herself a citizen/“user” of AppleTown or AmazonCity.
When we saw that our predictions were becoming reality at an accelerating pace, we did what any sensible group of civic-minded folks would do — we decided to pursue U.S. patent protections over novel processes that we understood were key to efficient CleanApp operations. Our goal was offensive — to accelerate cleanup activity by leveraging multiple tech breakthroughs, including machine learning, AI, and advances in robotics. But we also wanted to make sure citizens retained basic civic rights in our accelerating global transition to these various new forms of the “public-private partnership” governance model.
As paradoxical as it seems, pursuing a proprietary IP strategy emerged as the best way to safeguard spaces for innovation in the citizen-city (e.g., CivicTech) domain. On December 20, 2016, we obtained a grant of our first U.S. utility patent over a core aspect of trash/hazard reporting and analytics. From that point on, it was game on.
CleanApp in BigTech & BlockTech
Going back to our analogy of being the “Wi-Fi & Bluetooth” of CivicTech, we now had a small, but growing, IP portfolio and a growing global network of allies and collaborators.
In the time since, we’ve strengthened our outreach efforts to existing litter & hazard reporting apps and CivicTech developers to establish our bona fides and explain our ideal fitment and posture in this extraordinarily dynamic “civic space” and “market space.”
It’s not an easy task.
On the one hand, (1) we have to obtain buy-in from large networks of environmental, CleanTech, and hardcore “open-source data” communities. On the other hand, (2) we have to reassure established players like Litterati and SeeClickFix that we are a growth catalyst rather than a threat. On the third hand (yeah, exactly), (3) we have to maintain a consistent enterprise-grade posture to “sell CleanApp” to ALL of BigTech and to the world.
When we talk about selling CleanApp to BigTech and to the world, we don’t mean this in some narrow exclusive proprietary sense. We mean to sell CleanApp in an adoption sense, like Wi-Fi & Bluetooth were “sold” to the world. Just like Wi-Fi & Bluetooth went on to give us manifold lifesaving technologies, vastly improved global living standards, and unfathomable productivity gains — so too with CleanApp.
We all know the adage that “trash = treasure.” CleanApp offers maps & navigation to different veins of bounty in this new global treasure hunt.
CleanApp’s Key Strength
CleanApp Foundation’s key strength is its patent portfolio, which gives us the freedom to think systemically, without being tied to a particular product or platform. This allows us to view the global trash problem through the prism of individual citizen/user expectations, broader social norms and expectations, and through the prism of “functional interoperability.”
CleanApp interoperability implies tech standards and processes that operate in the background, like the tech protocols underlying Wi-Fi/Bluetooth. This way the same person can tell their Apple gadget, “Siri, tell Walgreens to CleanApp this spill,” one moment, and then, after getting home, can just as easily say: “Alexa, CleanApp the kitchen, please!” Later that weekend, when that same person is plogging along on a trail or a hike somewhere, all of us should want and need that person to be able to tell their Samsung Gear watch, “Google, CleanApp these plastic bottles that some dummies left behind.” Different platforms running a harmonized standard = actionable data in all three instances.
The easier we make it to report litter & hazards, the more reports we’ll get.
The more reports we get, the better our understanding of the underlying problem, and the higher the likelihood of a response & solution to that problem.
CleanApp’s Key Goal
Our key goal is to have everyone understand why we need to accelerate our transition to CleanApp (in multiple forms by multiple firms) — in other words, why we need FASTEST & EASIEST trash-tracking tech. That reason? It’s written in fine print on the bottom of the crumpled cigarette packs, and foam cups, and candy wrappers you see clogging the gutters when you’re going about your commute.
CleanApp’s Key Challenge
Here’s our key challenge:
Activist/developer communities like Linux Foundation, #WorldCleanupDay, Ethereum and so on, should trust that CleanApp isn’t some profit-driven BigTech pawn trying to just “license and commercialize its IP;” BigTech, in turn, will profit from internalizing the work of existing CleanApp communities (such as Twitter & Litterati), instead of reinventing the wheel.
In our view, everyone in this space will be better off by adopting harmonized trash/hazard reporting standards and consensus-driven data security, data privacy, and data ownership rules. We are excited to share our proposed standard in the coming months, and we look forward to continuing this collaborative standard-setting process.
Ok, TrashTech! What’s Next?
Here’s where things get really interesting. To prevent destructive patent wars between BigTech players over ownership of various citizen-city interaction processes, pathways, and technologies, CleanApp Foundation will maintain its neutral stance vis-a-vis BigTech, while continuing to expand its patent and IP portfolio in the U.S.
We ask that BigTech respect our motivations here, because ultimately, it’s in BigTech’s pecuniary interest to do so. If you get a letter from us explaining how particular processes in AmazonVesta, for instance, may potentially infringe on our patent rights, please be cool. We’re not a patent troll; we just see major fights within BigTech, and between BigTech and Civil Society, breaking out over these forms of IoT — and we desperately want to prevent those fights. Licensing revenue lets us keep our lights on, to keep your fights down.
As our lawyers teach us, the best way to win a fight is to anticipate it & to avoid it by giving everyone concrete material incentives to work together.
So let us be even more clear. CleanApp Foundation’s incentives are not profit-based. We are incorporated in Tennessee as a nonprofit corporation. Like the Wi-Fi Alliance and Bluetooth Special Interest Group, our intent is to remain a nonprofit. Our incentive is to facilitate the fastest possible deployment of CleanApp tech, along clear consensus-derived tech and legal norms.
If there’s any doubt about our capacity or ability, please learn more about us at www.cleanapp.io, where our “fun time” and “down time” is spent brainstorming the economics and user-expectations of CleanApp in Amazonia, the hospitality sector, the AR community, and beyond.
Suffice it to say, we’ve spent a LOT of time with a lot of very smart people working out multiple value propositions for everyone in various CleanApp transactional chains, from individual users, to emerging TrashTech/CivicTech/CleanTech leaders, to giant tech companies, and everyone in between.
After five years of standing on the shoulders of giants, we learned a number of lessons, which we hope to share with you soon. The most important lesson is the power of community. A functional CleanApp service that balances the expectations of tech providers and citizens will only be possible with your feedback and suggestions for improvements.
Over the coming months and years, we are confident that you will see more and more CleanApp offerings and CleanApp services. Litterati keeps growing and growing, which is excellent! Teams like OpenLitterMap.com have launched Ethereum-based @littercoin reward tokens for doing CleanApp activity. Amazing! And AmazonVesta looks primed, pardon the pun, to offer a fully-autonomous platform capable of responding to CleanApp reports!
Please help us CleanApp! Here’s why it’s really in your interest.