In Social Media, Turkeys

Mashable did a short piece on a Wall Street Journal article.  Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood suggests that automobile manufacturers should stop integrating social media into their new car lines. Let’s categorize some of the issues:

  • Safety concerns: Distraction is indeed a huge issue. As we all know, most states have laws forbidding texting while driving.
  • Consumer motivation: what do people really want? (or need?)
  • Crowd-sourced issues that could benefit drivers: Yes, there are many.

I think Secretary Lahood is justified in his concerns over safety issues. Nothing is more important.  However, without a more holistic view, one might miss out on big opportunities to make improvements in the driving experience and, more importantly, actual IMPROVEMENTS in driver safety.

Let’s do some brainstorming on new products – real and fabricated;

Smart Phone Technology

With a smart phone plugged into your car, you’ve added computing capacity and new functionality.

  • OK, having your favorite tunes served up by iTunes is cool, but what about automatic ‘hands free’ phones when driving.  I just drove a Kia Soul this past weekend and it can link up to five different phones via bluetooth. Voila, no more one-handed drivers!
  • What if that phone connection was able to tap into your social graph and only accept calls from certain people, redirecting all other calls to voicemail? Poof, no more digging into your pocket, after you’ve unbuckled, to take a call from a telemarketer.

Geolocation / GPS Technology

These technologies already allow real-time graphic updates of maps with traffic patterns (e.g. iPhone Map Feature.)

  • Why not build them right into the dashboard with glass panel, “heads up” displays like in airplane cockpits.
  • GPS voice guidance systems could draw on socialgraph data to focus data delivered and provide a myriad number of new, beneficial services to drivers … including safety issues.

Social Media Hooks

OK, it’s probably a bad idea to do Facebook status updates letting your friends know you just drove past a dead raccoon … with a picture, of course. What if, however;

  • The updates were voice activated and dramatically stopped the frequency of texting while driving.  The big benefits would be drivers would no longer need to look at their smart phones to type.  Ties into their social graph would remove the need to look up their friends.

    I think this one issue is like the logic behind Prohibition.  Government dictating that we shouldn’t drink alcohol because it’s bad for us doesn’t make us, as a society, actually stop.  Similarly (yet tragically), laws dictating that we not text while driving will never completely stop this from happening.  A concerted effort in education (like BMWs fine example in their new public service ads) is probably a much better approach.

  • Voice activated tweets could warn other drivers of real-time accidents, slow areas and construction activity.

I tried focus on the safety issues above but let’s dive a little deeper…

  • What if the glass panel system was able to activate an alternate, more robust mode IF the car was put into “park.”
  • Foursquare/Gowala could give you instantaneous updates on friend locations and deals in your immediate vicinity.
  • A full-featured Facebook interface could be available but NOT allow certain features to be operated while the car is in motion. Of course, this same restriction would not apply to the screens in the backseat panels.

Each of the ideas above tried to remove issues of distraction and most of them could, potentially, improve driver safety and traffic conditions… and this in one brief blog post.  Let’s see what the automotive manufacturers can come up with, shall we?

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