Monday, June 02, 2008
Networking past citations
Take the fact that people don't like getting tickets, add in some 21st century technology and a dash of entrepreneurship...and we've got a system that's fought back in the persistent battle of cops versus drivers.
The story goes like this: Cops get radar guns, tickets go up. Drivers get radar detectors, tickets go down. Cops get fancier laser radar detectors, tickets go up. Now, if Trapster has its way, tickets will hopefully go down again.
Customers sign up for a free service, download some software onto their cell phone or PDA, and off you go. You type a quick command into your cell phone when you pass a speed trap and, thanks to GPS and other locational technology, other users are notified before they pass the same point; presumably, once the system gets into full swing, everyone just pays it forward.
Of course, with systems like this, it's all about network effects. The more people that join, the more valuable it becomes for each member. As such, there should be a tipping point whereby this system will either peter out and die or become wildly successful.
A quick note about the hilarious comment by the National Association of Police Organizations at the end: You know that can't be their stance because one could make the exact same argument about radar detectors, and numerous states have banned their use (Virginia comes to mind). Further, with the confidence of knowing when not to speed comes the confidence of knowing when to speed. Police departments don't like this and, seeing their own profit opportunities speeding past them, will continue to find a way to generate revenue through issuing tickets.
Let's assume this program is wildly successful; what do the heat do next? This isn't just a technological advance, a la the newest and best radar detector, but a structural change in game itself. Cops are successful in giving tickets because of asymmetrical information; they know you're speeding, you don't know where they are. This advance eliminates the information advantage. I suppose there's always a first mover advantage-- go after the first driver through the zone before notification goes through. That would lead to a lot of moving around by officers as opposed to the hours of stationary patrol.
Would frustrations in signing up for the system and going through the growing pains of imperfect notification discourage users? Possibly; repeatedly typing "#1" might get annoying if your efforts are (purportedly) helping others while you're still acquiring tickets. Then again, if you're left to fend for yourself, you might be willing to incur the minor repeated cost in the hopes of things working out.
Getting the snowball rolling down the hill is always the hardest part; I'd love to see this work.