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OK, What the Real Phone Map Should Be

By - November 03, 2009

The sphere is abuzz with today’s news that AT&T is suing Verizon over those apparently quite effective ads which borrow heavily from Apple’s tagline – “There’s an App for that…” Verizon has created a map that compares AT&T 3G coverage to Verizon’s, and then uses the tagline “there’s a map for that.” (Above is the commercial, here’s the map.)

Well, I’ve been ranting about a real carrier mapping application (executed as a marketing campaign, natch), for nearly three years, and while I’ve told just about everyone I can about it, so far it’s still not done (I know, I know, we should make it ourselves, right? Well, maybe we will!).

Meanwhile, here’s the idea. If any of you brilliant coder/UX/marketing geniuses want to go do it, just credit FM and I, ok?

The main value of the program? It provides a place where anyone can put a pin on a map and annotate (with four part ranting harmony if they’d like) where their calls are dropped. A service like this exists – deadcellzones.com – but it’s not quite what I had in mind. It’s got the guts of what I’ve suggested, but not the scale, interface, community feel, conversational dialog, or program backing. And by program, I mean a major carrier practicing the true principles of conversational marketing, and owning the dialog – listening, responding, and acting upon the input.

I imagine the program working something like this. A major carrier – let’s say AT&T, since it’s in the news today – decides to build this app. It then announces the app in a major marketing program via a traditional marketing platform (web, TV, etc.). Say you’re on Boing Boing, and you see a STAMP execution that announces the new service – perhaps the ad itself is a widget that allows you to push a pin into the map based on a zip code, or whatever. One thing I know, everyone I’ve ever talked to has a story about how frustrated they are about dropped calls, and everyone has a list of places that are always dropping calls (for me, it’s the tunnels around the GGBridge, Sand Hill Road area, and on and on…). So give them a platform to vent about it.

But wait, there’s more! Venting is nice, but what’d be nicer is if your venting actually created change in the world! Imagine that! Well, if you’re a major carrier, you *can* do something about it. In fact, folks are always giving carriers grief for not putting up more cel sites, but in many cases, the real reasons they can’t have nothing to do with profits, and everything to do with the local city council, or geography, or other factors.

So, here’s the play: As the pins pile up, those areas which have the most pins start to get “hotter” in a visual way on the map. And then comes the key part: The carrier promises, in its marketing, to address the top ten “hot spots” each quarter (or month, or whatever period of time makes sense). Note I said “address” and not “fix.” Why? Because in some cases, there is no fix. For example, coverage at the North end of the Golden Gate Bridge is permanently bad, because, I am told by folks who know, it’s very hard to get permission to place cel sites in the right places (the area is a national park *and* part of Sausalito, a notoriously unfriendly place when it comes to outside companies like cel carriers).

So in a case like the North end of the Golden Gate, AT&T “addresses” the problem by responding on the map itself, providing an explanation of why the company can’t fix the problem, and suggesting that if consumers are upset, they might write a note to the Sausalito city councilmembers and/or the supervisors of the national park (and provide links, of course!).

The application is a mashup of sorts, blending Google Maps, crowdsourcing, geolocation, and commenting systems.

The plane is about to land, so I have to post and run. I’ll revise this when I get back on terra firma. But I believe that whichever carrier actually executes on that map will, in my mind, really win the game. More on why as I update this.


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9 thoughts on “OK, What the Real Phone Map Should Be

  1. This is a ~great~ idea and could open up a lot of transparency. We have a bunch of carriers that we are very close to and I intend to pass your suggestion along.

    Alternatively, it could be done in a way that is independent of any specific carrier, but would be useful to have marketing muscle behind it to get enough visibility for critical mass.

  2. Rich says:

    Sounds like a great idea.

    Would it be possible to automate on smartphones by having an ‘ap’ running that noted your co-ords when signal drops and automatically popped the pin in for you?

    It’d have to be dynamic so only putting one in if signal was lost for an extended time else basements and such would all have low signal.

  3. Timothy says:

    While a slightly different angle than where you took the concept, CNET and Root Wireless have teamed up to tackle this problem with an approach like what is mentioned in the comments.

    You can find the details here: http://news.cnet.com/8301-30677_3-10368459-244.html

    As you can imagine, crowdsourcing this data at the intersection of handset, carrier, and usage when there is data or voice failure could finally make this a transparent communication void of any marketers agenda.

    (full disclosure – I do work for CNET)

  4. Timothy says:

    While a slightly different angle than where you took the concept, CNET and Root Wireless have teamed up to tackle this problem with an approach like what is mentioned in the comments.

    You can find the details here: http://news.cnet.com/8301-30677_3-10368459-244.html

    As you can imagine, crowdsourcing this data at the intersection of handset, carrier, and usage when there is data or voice failure could finally make this a transparent communication void of any marketers agenda.

    (full disclosure – I do work for CNET)

  5. Timothy says:

    While a slightly different angle than where you took the concept, CNET and Root Wireless have teamed up to tackle this problem with an approach like what is mentioned in the comments.

    You can find the details here: http://news.cnet.com/8301-30677_3-10368459-244.html

    As you can imagine, crowdsourcing this data at the intersection of handset, carrier, and usage when there is data or voice failure could finally make this a transparent communication void of any marketers agenda.

    (full disclosure – I do work for CNET)

  6. Sikiş izle says:

    3G technology has come to be very popular since. I think the GPS system is quite useful, especially when traveling by car instead of unknown points from mobile phones to ask to see our work.

  7. Bertil says:

    Actually, operators already do that: that’s the main reason they monitor call logs (that and the fact that they are all Visitors, bound to erase humanit…) It’s much easier for them to have their engineers do it, although it doesn’t convey the added frustration from being a disconnected geek. Such an app would probably be far more useful by channelling anger (an important aspect) rather than signalling issues.

  8. Adam says:

    Hey John, is this a step in the right direction for your phone map app idea?

    Mark the Spot: Tell AT&T where the iPhone sucks

    http://www.crunchgear.com/2009/12/07/mark-the-spot-tell-att-where-the-iphone-sucks/