What even is Smol Data?

Dymaxion Air-Ocean World Map
Buckminster Fuller and Chuck Byrne: Dymaxion Air-Ocean World Map (1981)

I have been talking to people more about this weird side project, which has gotten more active in the last few weeks. One of the things that I get caught up on is what I imagine Smol Data will be building vs. how I want to organize a group of people to achieve those ends. Both are useful to understand, so I’ll try to summarize them here.

First the “what are we building part.” So far the project has materialized as a series of prototypes like SMS group chat, social media archiving, and offline-friendly mapping. These are all very work-in-progress, experimental endeavors. Recently I’ve been putting a lot of effort into the latter of these, the mapping software. It’s convenient for me because it coincides with what I do at my day job, and people seem to quickly understand the “why you might want it” aspect.

A 1948 Buckminster Fuller Architecture Class at Black Mountain College

The “how we are building it” is a little harder to explain. The clumsy way of putting it is: differently than Silicon Valley, or the broader “tech scene,” which has a whole range of thorny social biases that I find frustrating. I have questions like “so, who makes the thing?” and “for whom?” Or “what happens to everyone’s data when the company is purchased by an untrustworthy successor?” Increasingly, most of the tech startups I read about have disappointing answers to these questions.

But I don’t think this is a good way of explaining the project. Smol Data should be defined as a set of principles it stands for, not in opposition to. I want the project to be equitable in terms of labor policies, and to operate as a Worker Coop (see also: Feeltrain’s discussion of tech coops). It should be a vehicle for workers to address their Most Important Topic.

I want the project to have local impact, specifically addressing actual needs of people I live nearby. On the other hand, I want to work with a remote team comprised of individuals who can have impact where they happen to be.

Honestly, I am still figuring all this out. We still have not incorporated officially as a coop, but we will be working on that with students at the Albany Law Clinic & Justice Center in 2018. If you are interested in hashing out what all this might become, please consider joining our weekly office hours.