Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Extending the appeal of fuelwatch - making it 'you'-centrinc

It's still unclear to me whether a national version of Fuelwatch will be launched due to the political discussions underway (the WA version is at www.fuelwatch.com.au), however a US site named Fuelly has turned the concept on its head to create a useful user-centric site, which would lend itself effectively to extending a Fuelwatch-style approach.

Fuelly, at www.fuelly.com, allows individuals to record their vehicles, fuel use and the prices they paid for fuel to track their car's performance over time.

It is a simple concept which lends itself well to tracking the price of fuel at outlets (just add the service station details and time/date of purchases when people record fuel usage) without the need for expensive monitoring by a central agency or by petrol stations themselves. The site's users will do the work, because they receive a pay-off - precise information on their vehicle's fuel performance over time, which can be compared against the baseline for the vehicle (or compare against aggregate results from others with the same model car).

This type of application works well in the Web 2.0 world. Known as crowdsourcing it involves getting a large number of individuals to each do a small amount of work for an individual payback. As the service grows, so does the payback - encouraging greater participation.

Through having a very large number of participants any inconsistencies get smoothed out - as Wikipedia has demonstrated through its ability to rapidly self-correct when errors arise, (much faster than Encyclopedia Britannica, which has to wait until the next year's edition).

The approach Fuelly takes could easily be extended to include more car-related features - oil changes, services and major overhauls, and could eventually link into insurance programs as a way for individuals to record their car-related activities over time. The concept could continue to expand into other areas of value to people, mash-up with maps (If I drive from Canberra to Sydney, given my car's performance level, how much fuel will I use and what will it cost me), to other types of vehicles and to overall energy use and carbon footprint (just add your electricity, gas and water bill totals). It could then self-fund through advertising and car-related services.

With that type of site you'd add a vast amount of utility to a simple fuelwatch, making it very sticky, useful for people and self-regulating and maintaining.

Of course, being an entrepreneur by background I think towards how to make such a development sufficiently useful to generate a profit.

In the government sector, with the profit motive absent, this might seem all too commercial, though it provides a positive driver to make the service more useful to people, as if it didn't get used, it wouldn't get funded.

Note that this isn't the only crowdsourcing idea that could work in government. Provided that government can identify appropriate opportunities, provide a robust technical framework, fund initial growth and promotion, many concepts would lend themselves to the approach.

After all, the crowdsourcing approach is about putting in place infrastructure usable for the public good, and that's really what governments are about!

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