The iPhone Goes for a Ride

Apple iPhone

SAN DIEGO — Consumer products and services took center stage here yesterday at the wrap-up to this week’s DEMO conference. Here’s a quick look at
two of them.

Does Mapflow have the answer to the high cost of gas, boring commutes and
traffic jams? Doubtful, but the company is at least taking a whack at
providing a partial solution.

And while it’s addressing a serious issue, Mapflow showed it has a sense
of humor. Mapflow’s executive chairman and co-founder Sean O’Sullivan, who
could easily pass for a young Gene Wilder, had a few of
the funniest lines of the conference. He appeared on stage with a gift bag
he said contained a gadget the company had been working on for a couple of
years that will dramatically expand worker’s commute options. “It’s called
the iPhone,” he deadpanned.

After a few chuckles from the audience, he followed with: “Sorry, we all
know the iPhone was invented by Al Gore!”

What Mapflow has actually invented is a service that works with the
As O’Sullivan explained: “So inside the iPhone we have two hard working midgets…”

Mapflow demonstrator also onstage: “Widgets, I told you, they’re

But seriously, what Mapflow has developed is a service called Avego (pronounced a-vay-go), designed to pair passengers and driver
through their mobile devices. The driver needs an iPhone to run Avego’s
“shared transport” application.

In a video, the company showed how a driver could check into the “shared transport community” from an iPhone while the coffee’s brewing from home, check off where they’re headed and be available
to pick up a rider.

Prices for the rider are preset by Avego based on distance, and the driver
gets the bulk of the money electronically, with Mapflow taking a small cut.
Those looking for a ride can match up with drivers at Avego’s site using a mobile

The registration process is also part of a prescreening process to
help insure the communication is real and safe. You can also set up a more
limited range or network; only people from your company, for example. A
driver interested in taking a rider along activates the service, which then
looks for a match and sends a notification if one is found. The iPhone’s GPS
also helps guide the driver to the pickup spot.

After the ride you can even rate your passenger. During the demo, a
Mapflow official joked, “That guy was a bit weird. I’ll give him one star
and hope I never seem him again.”

“The value of a wasted seat on a daily commute adds up to about $3,000
per year,” O’Sullivan said. “This is an alternative to throwing that money
out the window.”

Next page: Should you buy it? TurnTo a friend first

Page 2 of 2

Should you buy it? Turn to a friend first

Word-of-mouth recommendations are considered one of the most powerful
marketing tools around. But shopping online is typically a solitary
activity. A commerce site may feature enthusiastic comments from other
buyers, but that’s not the same as a recommendation from a trusted colleague
or friend. A company called TurnTo
debuted a service it says brings that type of advice online at
the time of purchase.

The TurnTo widget (a little icon with the text link “see which friends shop
here”) at TurnTo partner sites lets visitors see when a friend has
experience with the site and its products.

In a demo, CEO George Eberstadt gave a quick look at how a variety of
sites are using TurnTo. They include Earthwatch (a nonprofit
that gives people the opportunity to participate in research projects around
the world); CompSource, a computer
commerce site, and Angara, an online
jewelry site.

Earthwatch, for example, offers trips to some exotic locations but, as
Eberstadt noted, the work involved and sometimes rustic accommodations,
might look intimidating to a first-time visitor. “But I can just click to
see if I have any friends who have been on an Earthwatch trip for advice and
either e-mail or connect with them in an IM,” he said.

Likewise, someone shopping at Angara could benefit from a friend’s experience, particularly for an item as personal as jewelry.

“When you can reach out to a friend, it’s a more trusted source,”
Eberstadt said.

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