My fellow Americans

SMS your laundry machine

Three years ago when everyone starting making noise about “location-based services” for mobile phones, pundits claiimed the killer app would be crap like “restaurant finding”: You pull out your phone and it automatically locates the Italian bistro nearest to you. I always argued that this was fundamentally wrong. What’s cool about mobile phones is that each one is inherently personal — each one is attached to a living, breathing human. And phones are quintessentially social: They’re about making contact with people. The first location-based services would be about making social connections, not about finding a Duane Reade.

Oh, how I savor each “told you so” moment. Now that the first bunch of location-based services are cropping up, it turns out they are, indeed, entirely social. There’s a great story in MIT’s Technology Review that covers the cool social-geographic services you’ve probably heard about — such as Dodgeball and toothing . But then discusses an incredibly cool Italian project called Fluidtime. It’s an SMS-based tool for letting people negotiate with each other over access to certain resources … such as washing machines:

One Fluidtime project targets a mundane task: scheduling the washing machine shared by 50 students at the institute. The Fluidtime team built an online scheduling system that allows students to book time on the machine via SMS text messaging. If a student suddenly realize that he desperately needs the machine, the laundry system lets him negotiate with the person who has it booked. The system also gives updates on the status of the laundry, which lets students manage it more closely. For instance, you can visually track how close your wash is to being done, which turns out to be far more helpful than receiving a simple alert when it’s completed.

(Thanks to Techdirt Wireless News for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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