Community Business Directory

FROM: Tony Keele

What NEED does this meet?
Our everyday lives are controlled less and less by accountable public bodies and more and more by private businesses both as providers of services and as employers. We need to have easily accessible information about the local businesses so that we can make informed decisions as consumers and employees and where necessary present the commuity feelings on local issues to those responsible.

What is the APPROACH?
There are many Business directories written by business for business. We need one for ordinary people.

Companies have to publish accounts and other management information. Most of them have their own web site these days and there are also articles in newspapers and journals and so on. But there is also knowledge in the community of the many people who have had dealings with firms active in the local area.

Using these sources it would be possible to give a more practical and realistic picture of local business activity than we are usually given.

What are the BENEFITS to people?
The Community Business Directory would bring benefits in many ways.

Jobseekers would be able to get a more accurate view of a prospective employer or find new companies to apply to.

Local knowledge about garages, estate agents and power suppliers etc etc would allow commonplace but important decisions to be made on a rational basis and would encourage a genuinely competitive marketplace.

In situations where companies have a virtual monopoly of an important resource, for instance rail travel, it would provide an avenue for a direct exchange of veiws between the company and the community it serves.

What is the COMPETITION?
Clearly there is an abundance of trade information in the public domain and many attempts to present the consumers point of view in magazines and newspapers but these sources are often controled by the industries themselves and their coverage is patchy and rarely deals with issues of community interest.

Local libraries often have good information about local businesses but it is unexitingly presented and only available only if you go there in person.

In general finding out about a company is hard work. I suspect some companies like it this way.

What BUDGET & LOGISTICS are required?
From the software perspective sophisticated open source development tools like Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP and Java should allow the system to be built using standard hardware relatively cheaply.

The design of the database structure might get complicated but I see the most difficult part would be deciding what information to display. Clearly there needs to be an overall Editor in charge of the site contents and a well defined Editorial policy as well as clear routes for feedback from all parties concerned. In this respect the project would be similar to a local newspaper or magazine.

November 11, 2003 in Corporate Social Responsibility, Empowering Consumers, User Created Content | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Company Ethics Database

FROM: Jeremy French

What NEED does this meet?
If information about what unethical & ethical practices companies are involved in was available in an easy to access database then consumers would be able to choose and companies they purchase from and companies would need to be more accountable

What is the APPROACH?
A user updateable database of companies and their working practice. These can be categorised and searched through. Links to relevant reports and news storeys can be posted for verification.
The database will also keep track of the ownership of companies so that conglomerates are easy to identify.
The database can be expanded to brands and products so that consumers can be aware of what they will be supporting with their purchases.


What are the BENEFITS to people?
People will be able to easily base their purchases on practices they believe are right. So if someone didn’t agree with animal testing they could avoid companies that are involved in that. Sometimes an ‘ethical’ company is owned by a larger ‘unethical’ one and it is difficult to tell what you are supporting when you buy things.

What is the COMPETITION?
No competition that I know of.

What BUDGET & LOGISTICS are required?
There is a little development work involved in the front end, servers will need to be hosted and sponsored. Depending on the popularity bandwidth may become costly but there may be interested contentious parties that will help with the posting (guardian/BBC/NGOs).

Can be run on open source software linux/apache/php/mysql

November 4, 2003 in Corporate Social Responsibility, Empowering Consumers, Reputation Systems | Permalink | Comments (13)

productgrill - barcode power

FROM: Timo

What NEED does this meet?
In theory, a free market should ensure the continual improvement of products through competition - assuming consumers always choose to buy the best quality available at lowest price. In practice however, most of us have no time or patience to do research on every small
purchase or are mislead by marketing. Large retailers are becoming increasingly
skilled at capitalising on consumer ignorance and convenience and enjoy astronomical margins in certain areas.

What is the APPROACH?
Every retail product is labelled by a unique barcode (compulsory in the EU as far as I am aware) offering a quick link to information. Texting the number underneath the barcode to a
"product grilling service" could provide immediate information about the product, empowering the consumer to make a more conscious choice and increasing competitive pressure. Information would be collected though reviews from previous buyers and consumer rights orgs. It would include an easy-to-follow and standardised list of the following:
a) average product rating (poor to excellent) b) price range, price history, estimated profit margin c) alternative outlets + prices d) similar products + ratings e) ethical information f) manufacturer name and description The approach is distinctive in that it combines mobile phone and barcode technologies.


What are the BENEFITS to people?
Shopping will much more relaxing and fun! Almost everyone would benfit from the service. Shoddy products and rip-offs will gradually disappear from the market. Not knowing which of 12 different olive oils to choose or buying a PC cable from high street for 15 pounds only to find out later it was 50p at the corner shop will be a thing of the past.


What is the COMPETITION?
There are various specialist test magazines, online reviews and consumer rights organisations. "Stiftung Warentest" has already
been very popular with consumers in Germany for many years if only for a limited range of products. Buyer reviews are already commonplace on internet shops. Ebay already acts as a powerful tool for price comparison. However, productgrill would be a novelty not in the information it provides, but in its speed, accuracy and convenience.
How many of us have a review magazine at hand when trying on sunglasses
in a department store?

What BUDGET & LOGISTICS are required?
A server will be required accommodate the barcode database and send/receive text messages.
Fairly expensive but cost could be covered by charging a tiny fee on every text message recieved. Cooperation with consumer rights groups/government and compilation of database would require a small number of full-time workers. People could be encouraged to send reviews by offering a "conscious consumer of the year" award to most prolific reviewer. If the scheme turns out to be successful, it could be improved by manufacturing mobile phones equipped with integrated barcode scanners. Maybe one day even with radio-frequency tag detectors capable of reviewing a whole shelf in one go. (Beat the retail giants with their own methods!)
Can be implemented EU-wide or even worldwide.

November 4, 2003 in Corporate Social Responsibility, Empowering Consumers, User Created Content | Permalink | Comments (7)

Fair Traders

FROM: Rob Beattie

What NEED does this meet?
Rather than choosing someone to fix my roof, taps, lights, windows, walls or damp problem based on their advertisement, I'd like to choose them based on personal recommendation. If they did a good job for someone else, they'll probably do a good job for me. I suspect there are millions of people who feel the same.

If the initial site was a success, it could be extended to include all sorts of other types of businesses - estate agents, surveyors, financial advisors, solicitors (well, maybe not...)

What is the APPROACH?
When you come across someone who does a good job for a fair price, you type your comments into a database; similarly, if they do a poor job. The result is a bit like the feeedback an eBay user gets. Over time, it becomes clear which traders are doing a good job and which ones aren't.

What are the BENEFITS to people?
Finding and paying someone to work on your house is a stressful experience, and it shouldn't be. By pooling our knowledge of local traders we can help everyone to get the job that they pay for. User feedback like this also allows smaller traders to compete with large ones on more equal terms.

According to the DTI: "In the current market it is clear however that the average consumer has little chance of distinguishing between good builders and bad builders." Fair Traders would help to even things out.

What is the COMPETITION?
Not that I know of. Certainly a number of sites will offer lists of local tradespeople but doesn't 'review' them in any sense.

What BUDGET & LOGISTICS are required?
I don't know anything about coding but I'd have thought it was pretty straightforward. You'd need to be able to search by post code and the type of work you need doing. Apart from that, the site builds itself, as people share their experiences.

November 3, 2003 in Empowering Consumers, Reputation Systems, User Created Content | Permalink | Comments (5)

How much will my pension be?

FROM: Dr R.J.Appleton

What NEED does this meet?
People with personal (defined contribution) pensions who want to find out how much to save to achieve a level of income.

What is the APPROACH?

Approach is to get state pension amounts (from Dept of Work & Pensions site - very hard to find figures for state pension amounts) and average annuity rates from FSA tables (www.fsa.gov.uk) for projected pension pot and calculate

What are the BENEFITS to people?
It is hard to get a siomple answer to 'how much can I expect to get when I retire?' if you have a defined contribution pension plan. Projections by pension providers talk about how big a 'pot' one will ahve at 55, 60 or 65 but do not relate that to monthly or annual income (as that requires annuity rates).

Although one cannot forecast with accuracy tying up a pension pot with annuity rates (with various other bits of data such as spouse's pension, retirment ages ofn 55,60,65, income level or linked to RPI, etc) will give a lot more idea to people about what they can expect to retire on. This will help with decisions regarding levels of contribution. (Current annuity rates are low, so currently this approach is likely to underestimate the pension income).

What is the COMPETITION?
Don't know of any place to get this as a consolidated view across state and annuity providers.


What BUDGET & LOGISTICS are required?
Failrly simple, although an annual update may be required to state pension figures as DofW&P only keep these in a PDF file (making it hard to prase automatically).

I have manually obtained average annuity rates from FSA by repeatedly filling in their query form, and averaging out the projected monthly pension amounts in the response table.

November 3, 2003 in Empowering Consumers, Perhaps Government Remit?, Use of Statistics | Permalink | Comments (1)

The Source to Out Out-Sourcers

FROM: Andy Button

What NEED does this meet?
Within the UK economy a large number of corporations are moving work overseas as quietly and transparently as possible. People want to prevent this but no-one really knows how, on company accounts it looks great and those cuts in credit card interest rates look so appealing.

The jobs being lost are British jobs, this isn't about race but people want to do something and need accurate information about who provides a service while still managing to employ British people.

What is the APPROACH?
At the very least there needs to be a mailing list to inform people about companies that move jobs overseas.

An anonymous account/product checker that can analyse your accounts/products telling you who is out-sourcing and offers suggestions of alternative accounts/products that are comparable but employ in the UK.

As a further step it would be ideal if visitors could add their support to an online petition for active lobbying of parliament and/or petitions to the board of offending companies.

A review section of the site could reward companies that are open about their stance against out-sourcing and to keep subscribers up to date about companies who have brought work back into Britain.

What are the BENEFITS to people?
Most people care about the future of their jobs and would appreciate some assurance that their job is not going to be given to lower paid staff overseas.

The only way to give people this power is to coordinate their opinions into a market force that can dissuade companies from choosing the easy option.

What is the COMPETITION?
I know of no similar services.

What BUDGET & LOGISTICS are required?
The front end of the web service would be relatively inexpensive with obviuosly the bare minimum of a mailing list being the ultimately scaleable solution.

I would very much like to see the account/product checker functionality implemented and the obvious solution is to use affiliates. I do, however, think that the policy for choosing affiliates would need to be strict as subject such as web site advertising should be appropriate to the message the service is providing.

Longer term, the site should maintain it's own database of products and services to provide an unbiased view.

November 1, 2003 in Corporate Social Responsibility, Empowering Consumers, Reputation Systems, User Created Content | Permalink | Comments (2)

Goods and Services Database

FROM: Brad Evans

What NEED does this meet?
Since the end of the cold war, the globalized economy (with all it's pluses and minuses) has taken over to become the most powerful system in the world. My idea is attempt to address the 'minuses' of globalization and to provide a balancing system to keep it in check.

Right now the majority of consumers base their purchases of goods and services based on price. They ignore the problems that their choices cause to societies and the environment. People buy the cheapest rugs not knowing that this causes child labour in the third world, or people buy product X not knowing that it requires that harmful chemicals are used in creating it.

Also the informed bargaining power that consumers once had in purchasing has been lost in a complicated obscurity. I cannot choose product X over product Y because I know that the CEO of the manufacturing company is a disreputable person. We have gone too far from the marketplaces of old, where haggling kept prices in check and more than just money guided our purchasing.

What is the APPROACH?
My plan is to provide more information to consumers by using freely available databases on the Internet. The price of apples in Toronto can be compared to the price in London. If I want to buy product X, I can find out who makes it, what is used in building it, in what countries is it manufactured. How do those country rate in their labour and environmental laws.

This idea will require technical people, information providers, information arbitartors, some sort of online court to judge with information is most truthful and what parties providing mis-information.

The glut of information compiled in these databases will be too much for one person to understand. Consumer groups would have to step forward to interpret it for particular people in particular regions.

As a consumer I would pick a consumer group that reflected my personal tastes, philosophy and region. I would join the Urban-Middle-Age-Environmentally-and-Politically-Concerned-Christian-Slightly-Right of-Center-Male-of-Southern-Ontario-Canada-Consumer-Group. My group would tell me what the best car for me to buy would be and where to buy my groceries.

These consumer groups would probably become a shaping force in future economies and political landscapes.

What are the BENEFITS to people?
I believe that the global society that we have needs a balancing force. This force is to be found in informed consumerism and not in political idealogy.

Consumers will join primarily to gain marketplace power. To find the best buys and to set proper prices. They can also rest easier that their consumer choices are not causing suffering in other parts of the world and to our environment.

By careful purchasing consumers vote on changes that bring us all a better world.

What is the COMPETITION?
There may be other such databases out there, but they are regional or for a certain area of products. Consumer Reports Magazine has information but it is not as complete as I would like and requires that I subscribe to their information. Other databases are available only to certain groups.

I think an open source non-commercial idea has to work. It is an idea to counterbalance the commercial world where there is a lot of mis-information, vested interests and money is king.

What BUDGET & LOGISTICS are required?
Well since it's an open source project, peoples time and expertise will not be a cost. I see this as a good opportunity to bring non-technical people into the open source world. This idea will require legal, political and commercially minded people. It will need information providers from all over the world. It will need organizers to make all this work.

Ways of handling the Global Goods and Services Database need to be devised and control by a central but unbiased authority.

I think most of the development will occur in an evolutionary manner. If we start building regional goods and services database and provide a standard for their construction and the sharing of information. Then the governing of these resources will develope afterwards in a hopefully democratic manner.

The consumer groups that interpret will be self funding and governing. However, information packages and advice will have to be provided to these groups, so that they can make the most of the GGSDB.

I can only anticipate the early stages of my idea. As it must be nurtured by many people, the direction it would take, I cannot predict. I think that to start the project a forum of interested people need be created. From their, the GGSB can take form.

I for one would be glad to contribute to the discussion, to the design of the GGSDB. I can also offer my techinal expertise as a Network Administrator and as an amateur sociologist.

November 1, 2003 in Corporate Social Responsibility, Empowering Consumers, Reputation Systems, User Created Content | Permalink | Comments (3)

UK Food and Medicines Database

FROM: David Harrison

What NEED does this meet?
Full-disclosure information upon the ingredients and nutritional value of every branded food and medicine product in the UK, according to the needs of the consumer, permitting personal day-to-day nutiritional diaries to be kept, and specific ingredients avoided (ie. peanuts, GM).

What is the APPROACH?
A single, free to access database listing every food and medical product on sale in the UK. Each product has a full list of its ingredients, not according to UK/EU labelling laws, but according to the interests of consumers, so explicitly whether the product may contain any nuts, animal products, GM product. Note, for example, that there would be no category for 'sodium', only one for 'salt' (Sodium x 2½ = Salt content, a common industry trick to hide a negative aspect of a product). Labelling laws allow the food industry to 'lobby' government to get away with not telling consumers what they want to know about ingredients. Their lobbying wouldn't work on this database. Full disclosure would be required for inclusion, and if they aren't on it, then customers may fairly assume that the company has something to hide, and neither it, nor its products should be trusted.

What are the BENEFITS to people?
All products can be checked easily, without squinting at labels in supermarkets and trying to work out whether the food manufacturer has managed to hide something that you want to know about a food product, using a loophole in the labelling laws. Is it suitable for vegetarians or vegans? Does it contain any GM product? The 'My Nutrition' feature would allow you to click on a specific product as you ate it, and add it to your nutritional diary, to test the quality of your diet, so if you eat three shredded wheat, the exact nutritional contents of that particular brand of product goes on to your diet sheet for the week. If you eat too much salt, sugar, fat, and processed food, and too few vegetables, the system can automatically tell you. It will also cover the ingredients of medicines, a particular problem as corporates offload GM product, and manufacture tablets that contain animal products without advertising that fact, merely because the production costs are a little cheaper.

What is the COMPETITION?
Currently you have to get printed lists of own-brand products from each supermarket, hoping they don't go out of date too quickly as product formulations change, and try to decipher food labels, most of which are designed to avoid telling you the things you want to know. The site would allow nutritionists to tag products as being particularly high in saturated fats or salt, and even give league tables of the current 'ten branded yogurts with the highest salt and sugar contents' etc.

What BUDGET & LOGISTICS are required?
The technology to run the site, once up, would be easy to maintain. Data should be uploaded and maintained by food producers. Small producers are usually happy to tell you what their foods contain, and links on the site would ensure that a listing would be beneficial, allowing a wider audience to be aware of, and to buy their products. The larger supermarkets and brand owners are multi-million pound corporates and can afford to spare a person to maintain the registration of their own brand products. If they don't take part-don't trust their products. With a grant from the DoH (given the site's benefits to the national health), it should be free to use.

November 1, 2003 in Corporate Social Responsibility, Empowering Consumers, Health, User Created Content | Permalink | Comments (1)

Get small/local food produce over the internet

FROM: Greg Turner

What NEED does this meet?
A system which helps us move away from the stranglehold placed on food producers by large supermarket chains.

Also a way of getting fresher local produce from independent sellers.

Also a way of having food delivered to your door from multiple sellers.

What is the APPROACH?
OK, the new bit is a distribution system, which coordinates the produce of local suppliers with the needs of consumers. So, the consumers place the orders, and all the orders are collated, and sent to the suppliers, who deliver to the distributors in bulk who put together the orders. Hopefully quality will be high for delivery, since consumers know who the producers are.

Consumers can collect their order when it is ready, or have it delivered.

I think that distributing for competing suppliers (like several farms which sell apples) are OK - so long as consumers know where their produce is coming from, they will settle upon their favourite suppliers. Competitors may wish to send free samples of their produce to tempt consumers away.

What are the BENEFITS to people?
Choice: of local/organic/fair trade produce - consumer is informed about what they eat Quality: since the relationship between consumer and producer is closer, more trust between them will develop. Also fresh, seasonal goods. Convenience: When trust exists, consumer is more comfortable about ordering food remotely, rather than picking from a supermarket. Fairness: Equitable to producers and consumers.

What is the COMPETITION?
BIG competition from Sainsbury's et. al. This idea should win because it's attractive and feel-good, and might get the Big Guns to change their tune about exploiting producers (which is a win in itself).

Competition with traditional marketplaces on their own ground, with the convenience of eCommerce and consumer knowledge, without the benefit of seeing the actual produce.

It might lose because of competitive pricing, but perhaps some of the saving in overheads would reduce the difference?

What BUDGET & LOGISTICS are required?
This idea can start small - a pilot scheme in a town with lots of surrounding producers. Perhaps coastal, for fresh seafood, too?

I imagine that after the site development for linking consumers with producers, running costs would be on marketing, warehousing, and delivery to consumers.

November 1, 2003 in Empowering Consumers | Permalink | Comments (2)

Database of Private Landlords

FROM: Geoff Burgess

What NEED does this meet?
This is a resource to help tenants of private landlords make an informed choice when choosing their next property. A lot of private landlords are inept and uncaring and I believe they should provide a quality service - for which they are generally paid very well! Legislation will not change this, it is market forces that can make a difference. With a database of landlords' behaviour and attitude, expressed through personal experience of past tenants, we can praise the best and deny future business to the worst.

What is the APPROACH?
The approach is distinctive because no-one is really shouting for the private tenant. Social Housing and Council Housing have a lot of support but there's an odd smokescreen of 'enforced gratitude' with private tenancies - as though we should feel lucky to have anything. I am playing with ideas on this theme at http://www.crazywithak.co.uk/tenancy/

The format is simple: a searchable database of landlord's name, agent's name, property address, and personal experience. There must be equal space for the people in question to reply.

What are the BENEFITS to people?
The more savvy tenants are with which landlords they enter into contracts with, the more the remainder of the market will be forced to improve.


What is the COMPETITION?
There is nothing I have found so far for the bunch of housemates, small family or urban couple who aren't interested in their local community or tenancy associations but just want a decent flat to live in for the money they pay.

This isn't about extreme disputes or major legal battles - it is a gentle push for improvement in quality, civility and happiness. In a way it is the least important factor in the housing arena and that is why no-one is representing it.

What BUDGET & LOGISTICS are required?
I know nothing about databases but it shouldn't take long. We may need legal representation for each occasion we are taken to court but with the right guidance the database should be such that we never lose a case.

October 31, 2003 in Empowering Consumers, Reputation Systems, User Created Content | Permalink | Comments (12)