Ordinarily, I love transatlantic flights. Sure, there's something magical about being transported to another land. But there's also something deliciously self-indulgent about watching all the movies you want, without paying for them or feeling guilty about the time you're spending on them.
That's why, on a recent flight to London, I was irked to discover that my seat-back screen was busted.
Yeah, I know: #firstworldproblem. Still, in this world of instant information about anything, it's too bad there's no app that would let me warn whoever sat in 22F on this plane's next flight about the broken screen. (Or, conversely, where the previous occupant of my seat could have warned me.)
The concept of real-time, crowdsourced reporting isn't so far-fetched. Consider Waze, the GPS navigation app (now owned by Google). Its killer feature: drivers can report what they encounter on the road to other Waze-equipped drivers. Traffic jams, police cars, accidents, stopped cars, speed traps, road closures, and so on.
When Waze debuted, nobody had the app, so nobody reported anything, so nobody needed it. I actually doubted it would ever catch on, and without the so-called network effect, the app would be worthless. But somehow it flew, and now millions of people have made Waze an incredible info source for anyone who drives.
Once when I took my kids to Disney World, I was delighted to discover an app that employs exactly the same trick to tell you how long the lines are at each ride. (It's called—surprise—Wait Times for Disney World.) Where does this information come from? Fellow park visitors, doing their part to help one another by tapping in the wait times they're experiencing.
This idea—real-time communication of temporary conditions to fellow citizens—is so powerful, simple, useful and obvious, I'm amazed that it is not more common. So here, for the benefit of all humankind, especially app developers looking for ideas, I'm pleased to offer seven great new Waze-like app ideas.
City Sleep Saver. How many times has your hotel room sleep been ruined because of construction noise from a building nearby (or even within the hotel)? For me, it's very often. The hotel sure isn't going to warn you—but this app will.
Garage Guru. By the time you've snaked your way through the parking lot or garage trying to find a spot only to discover that there isn't one, you've missed the beginning of your dinner or meeting. Never again! Now the last driver to pull in can alert the world that the lot is full.
Movie Movers. Why should anyone ever suffer the disappointment of turning up at a sold-out movie? With one tap in this app, people already at the theater can indicate that certain times are full. If they're especially kind, they'll even tell you when they see that other movies are sold out besides the one they were going to. The same app should have an option to report projection problems, sticky floors or overzealous air-conditioning.
TSA Tsk-Tsk. Sometimes you breeze through airport security and wind up cooling your heels at the gate; other times the line is bafflingly long, and you risk missing your flight. But with this app, you'll know ahead of time how bad the lines are.
Black Friday Bulletin. Every Black Friday, stores advertise a few incredible deals—loss leaders, like a particular TV model at 60 percent off, for example. Only after you've fought the crowds and made it into the store do you discover that they had only 10, and they're gone. If only you'd known!
Tinder Loving Care. It's so handy that Tinder can help you find a date. Now we need an app that, after you've just finished with a date that was vile or abusive, lets you warn the next person who's tempted to swipe right.
Restroom-Ready. What's more irritating than a public bathroom stall that's out of toilet paper or a sink without soap? With this app, you'll know before you go.
Having the right data at the right time and place could make all our lives more efficient, less expensive and better-lived. Waze had the right idea. Now let's spread it.
Scientific American Online
Apps that let you do good via crowdsourcing: