Just a bit of a mind-dump, that I thought of in the car this morning.

Let’s go back 15+ years ago. Imagine your spouse leaves for work, taking the same highway as you do. Ten minutes later you also leave for work… next thing you know you’re stuck in a huge traffic jam on the highway, and unbeknown to you, your spouse is a few km / miles in front of you also stuck in the same traffic. Way back then, this was not ideal, but acceptable, because we didn’t know any better.

Then, the wide availability of cell phones arrived. The same scenario, when your spouse gets stuck in the traffic he/she can phone you and say “Hey, don’t take the highway, take the backroads.”. That was awesome, now you can miss the traffic and at least one of the two people can get to work on time (or at the very least close to on time). The question is, what was the problem with this? Well, for starters: What if I didn’t know the back roads that well? That made the world come up with relatively cheap GPS devices that you can put in your car and navigate by when you don’t know the roads. The second problem with that was that the bandwidth of communication is extremely limited. It requires you to first off know somebody in the current traffic problem. Then it requires that person to know you well enough, and know what your plans are ahead of time, and that that person takes the time to phone / text you about the traffic problem. How did we fix this?

Phone-home-GPS. TomTom I believe was one of the first affordable GPS devices that had the phone-home capability whereby they uploaded route and speed information to a centralised server. Then everybody that sets their route intersecting your route will be notified that this route is not ideal because “somebody else” drove it 15 minutes ago and got stuck in a traffic jam. This was awesome, it solved the bandwidth problem to an extent, because now everybody that has that same phone-home-GPS device without them knowing or even caring gives you information that could save you time. It also solved the problem of not knowing the back-roads, because, well, it’s a GPS device. Great! So what was wrong with that picture? The biggest problem I can see is still the bandwidth issue. The amount of people I know even today with those types of GPS devices are far and few between. Sure, it’s every 20 or so people who own a GPS device, but of all the people I know only about 1 in every 5 actually has a GPS device, that means that 1 in every 100 people using a specific road can actually help you. So, still a bandwidth problem.

Then came cell-phone-GPS. This truly fixed – almost – the bandwidth problem. Out of all the people I know, exactly all of them has a cell phone capable of running a GPS app in the background, and let’s face it… all the free apps now uploads traffic conditions to the servers (Google Maps and Waze being the most popular in our area). I said “almost” because there’s still a bandwidth problem even with everybody having some kind of a GPS app on their phone. Google Maps don’t share their data with Waze, or TomTom. And Waze and TomTom don’t share their info with Google Maps or each other. So, as you can see… if I’m using Waze, I’m limited to road users who are on Waze. It’s thus in my interest to actually choose the service that’s used the most by people in my area. It’s probably Waze or Google Maps (seeing as that comes with all Android phones pre-installed).

So, how do we fix the current bandwidth problem? (In the back of my mind I can see one of those “first world problems” memes about this).

I’m not entirely sure how we can fix the current bandwidth problem. One idea might be to get the companies to play nice and share information. Another might be to create an independent company that provides this centralised server to store traffic information on. Not sure all of them would want to play nice though. But, it’s not up to them, is it? It’s up to what the consumer wants – and face it, over the past few decades we’ve seen the consumer always gets what he wants (except not paying for stuff… oh… wait, these things are free, strike that!).

One thing I know for certain, and it is that tomorrow is most certainly going to be better than today – at the very least when it comes to technology. The pressures today on companies to react fast and give astonishingly great products and services to consumers are¬†immense. It’s a much higher pressure than a decade ago, or even a year ago. The reason for this is that we now have the technology to voice our dislike or frustration with a service or product on a global and massive scale. Twitter. Facebook. Tumblr. Name but a social network and it’s a medium for people to voice their opinions – and the companies that’s going to be standing in a decade’s time is most certainly listening.

So, is your company listening? If not and you own the company, start listening. If you don’t own the company, have a chat with the owner and try to convince them to start to listen to the masses.

See you tomorrow – with a little bit of luck and a lot of confidence we’ll have even better tech and gadgets to talk about!