A pair of researchers from the London School of Economics' Department of Geography & Environment are measuring happiness throughout the U.K. And to do it, they've created an iPhone app called Mappiness. Although, on the surface, it doesn't seem to be that new a concept—remember Harvard student Matt Killingworth's Track Your Happiness app from last year?—this year's U.K.-centric model wants to discover just how much a person's environment affects his or her well-being.
The project launched yesterday, following a week-long pilot to check the tech, and currently has over 1,600 participants. Once signed up, the app pings users on their iPhone once a day or more, asking them to key in just how happy, relaxed and awake they feel, using the app's sliding scale, and finds out what they are doing, who they are with, and where they are—photo optional. As well as human input, the app measures location using the phone's GPS and noise levels via the microphone.
We spoke to the project's lead researcher, George MacKerron, to find out some more.
Which results have surprised you so far?
We've been blown away by the positive responses to our project on Twitter and in the media. We've not had the chance yet to analyse the incoming data in any detail. We have noticed—in line with intuition, but it's nice to see it confirmed—that weekends are much happier than weekdays. You can see this for yourself on the timeline.
Why is Mappiness iPhone only?
The iPhone is a great platform for our purposes. of course, others would be too, and it would be wonderful to be able to reach out to other smartphone users—Android, WebOS, Symbian, WinMo and so on. But to do so with a native app means essentially starting the coding from scratch for each platform. And using a purely web-based approach have its own problems.
How do you think the report last week that iPhone owners have more sex than other smartphone users might affect your research?
Well, iPhone users are probably not exactly representative of the general population in all kinds of ways. That's probably the biggest limitation of our research. But still, we think the data we can collect this way is rich enough and novel enough that we can live with that.
What, location aside, is different to the Track Your Happiness project?
Well, location is the biggest differentiator—and tied into that is our specific interest in environmental effects on well-being. Having a native app—with global Push Notifications—is probably the next biggest difference. Track Your Happiness, though they call it an iPhone app, is actually web-based. I signed up for a while, and the biggest problem I found was that the Web-based interface was too slow when on a mobile data connection—they don't actually have a native app.
Where do you expect to see black pockets of depression in the U.K., and why?
This isn't really what we're looking for. I hope it's not what we see.