Scott Adams Stole My Carpool Idea!
In Palam Vihar, Gurgaon where I live (an otherwise fine place), one long standing problem has been the woefully inadequate public transport. Most residents somehow manage with their cars, however, since single car families are most prevalent - one car is never sufficient. Thinking about this problem over a year and half ago and mulling over the then recently introduced "Centrex" feature by our phone company (call any other resident for free), I came up with an idea that went beyond the needs of Palam Vihar residents.
A massive carpool network that works on a system of credits. Lets say person X doesn't have a car today and wants to go from point A to point B. So he places a call to a toll-free number and enters the locations. Now person Y has a car, is going the same location but doesn't know person X. He calls up the automated voice network, learns about person X, looks up his profile and finding him OK offers him a lift. Person Y just earned a credit sold by X.
To really understand the implications of this, you need to follow a link I'll add later in the post. But at that time I mulled over it for weeks together and developed it in quite detail. I thought Google would be the ideal company to launch something like this. Around the same time, I entered the following brief notes about the concept in my "ideas" spreadsheet as idea #4:
Call to book available rides to your destination from your location in the next 15 minutes. Only registered license holders allowed anonymously.
Buyer-seller market much like eBay. Credibility feedback plays important role. Needs scale to work. VOIP hosted application to take calls. Algorithms determine who gets matched with whom.
So last month when I come across a post in which Dilbert creator Scott Adams describes an almost identical idea, I couldn't believe my eyes. It was like he scanned my brain while I was asleep! The similarities were uncanny.
More seriously though, this is actually a pretty awesome idea. As Scott says, the biggest problem with carpooling is inconvenience. An all-pervasive carpool network solves this problem. There are only two large differences between Scott's idea and mine. One, I think GPS will make it more effective but I don't think it's absolutely necessary. Second, I conceived it around eBay like feedback by buyers and sellers. I think that would make the system very credible.
P.S: How does the network provider makes money from this? Scott hasn't thought of that. I did. Since I thought Google should provide this service, they make money the same way they always have - from advertising. Since they know where people are going, they can serve pre-registered ads from retailers and companies along the route. If you don't like to get ads / text messages then pay Google a small sum to get an ad-free ride.