More Than Just Finding A Toilet

    by Paul Lamb
    December 3, 2007

    A recent article on a service in London and several U.S. cities that allows you to locate nearby public toilets by texting “toilet” on your mobile phone got me to thinking about the practical applications of locative media.

    Many mobile advertising companies are hard at work creating platforms and services to push customized ads and real time “specials” to your mobile device as you walk by a store or drive down the street. But what about services that help you to connect with your neighbors, and enhance your community, or keep you safe. Aren’t those practical too?

    For example, what about a mobile application that offers you the ability to know about the who lives in your neighborhood and what they do for a living. Maybe you need some work done around your yard or a recommendation for a good plumber. Wouldn’t it be useful to be able to identify locals (and other people they know) when you are in a public place and could receive alerts on your mobile device about who has a a particular expertise or connection that fits your needs?


    What about the ability to know what happens in a neighborhood community center, library, or social service center as you walk by that location? Maybe there is an event or project that is aligned with your interests, or a volunteer opportunity you can inquire about on the spot – now that you can enable opt-in mobile alerts and stay better informed about happenings in your immediate surroundings.

    How about knowing who in your neighborhood is a doctor or nurse, or where to go for help during a natural disaster when the Internet is down, phone lines, etc. are not working? A simple text messaging platform could offer such mobile services and direct you away from danger even when outside of your home.

    There are many, many ways that mobile devices could (and should) be used to enhance our lives in practical ways. But the focus will likely remain on local business search and advertising for some time to come…because that’s where the obvious money is.


    Not that finding a public toilet isn’t important when you need it, but hopefully we can do more and better than that!

    Tagged: local locative media mobile services
    • Fascinating, Paul.

      Still, I wonder how practical this is in the next 10 to 20 years:

      >what about a mobile application that offers you the ability to know about the who lives in your neighborhood and what they do for a living.

      Since there are no public databases of people’s professions, this will have to come from an opt-in system. How realistic is that in the next generation? Even startups that offer basic information about houses or neighborhoods are having a hard time gaining critical mass. Or do you think larger social networks like Facebook or LinkedIn will take us down this path?

    • I am very glad to see the life you described.
      I reproduced this article on http://www.tingik.com/blog/?p=5.
      If you have not provided pre-authorization, please contact me. I’ll delete it ASAP.

    • JD: I think you are right that the type of private information access needed for some of the uses I describe is not quite there yet, even with a purely opt in strategy. But I think it will be less than 5 years when we reach a tipping point and such information access is the norm. All the studies on the digital natives point to this. Obviously we need to be very careful on how we approach these privacy and security issues, and they shouldn’t be taken lightly. But I ultimately think it is possible to strike a balance between privacy and community-based information that does more to enhance people’s practical lives than it does to line the pocket books of advertisers.

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