True gadget transparency: In the works!

Posted by Rob Walker on June 27, 2010
Posted Under: Update

In response to this morning’s Consumed column — in which I pivoted from the flurry of news stories about suicides at the Foxconn factories in China and suggested that a more meaningful form of “transparency” in a global consumer marketplace would entail being able to learn, easily, where exactly and specfically our stuff is made — I got a great note from Matthew Hockenberry, a visiting scientist at the MIT Center for Future Civic Media.

Turns out his team is working on something that sounds like what I imagined in the column:

Sourcemap ( is an MIT project creating an open source and open data supply chain publishing platform that enables exactly the kind of transparency you talk about. Companies (and investigative consumers, academics and journalists) can use Sourcemap to share the supply chains behind products and show us all exactly where they come from. At the same time the site creates the opportunity to do automatic calculations based on this information, like carbon footprinting – with the only open data carbon catalog on the web.

We’re actively working on interesting partnerships with large and small business, governments, communities, journalists and educators. We’re not quite there yet, but we can definitely tell you where some things come from. On the site you can find things like Ikea beds, Tesla roadsters, ipods, where whole foods gets some of its ingredients, bicycles, Sony PSPs – there are even a couple of planes on there (airbus and boeing).

This is really cool! It’s not precisely what I had in mind, but it has great potential — and as I indicated in the column, I think this sort of thing is a lot more compelling than price-comparison apps. Check out the for more.

Like any open source project, its ultimate success depends on people knowing about it, and participating. So: If you think, as I do, that this is a great idea, I hope you’ll spread the word.


Here are some more sites, in addition to the above, and those mentioned in the column itself:

Closet Tour: “CLOSETTOUR is a blog about wondering what to wear in an increasingly complicated world. It is about finding value, and values in fashion, by following our clothing’s narrative threads.” Via Jeff Jarvis.

Andrew Condon also points out company-specific transparency efforts at GreenSource Organic, and, of course, that good old standby,  Patagonia.

Core 77 follows up here. Consumerist, here. Daily Grommet follows up here. Also, here is a the Ecosystem Notebook’s “ingredients” page, an interesting example.

And furthermore: Via Allan C. here is a slideshow of tips for finding out how your stuff is made, from Jen van der Meer:

Further diversion may be found at MKTG Tumblr, and the Consumed Facebook page.

Reader Comments

Thanks for the update Rob. I am watching this unfold with delight. I hope you are right about this being more compelling than price comparison apps. I vacillate between extreme optimism on this issue (people care…they really, really care!) to….with our discount culture, price is the only telegraphic message that matters to WAY too many folk.

Written By Jules Pieri on June 28th, 2010 @ 8:14 am