Using mobile mapping tools for social services?
November 4th, 2007

The launch of a new online (and mobile) location based mapping and review site – Whrrl – prompted me to think about how such services could be used for more than just finding out what people think about a local Thai restaurant and/or if your friends are there eating their at this very moment?

Specifically, I am wondering if mobile mapping, rating, and people connection services like Whrrl could be used to support a variety of social services like homeless serving programs or food banks? Imagine a network of homeless people, each with a cheap mobile device, that allows them to pull up a map of locally available shelters, food kitchens, medical and mental health facilities, and vocational training centers. Rather than simply offering a Yellow Pages style listing of available services, theGoogle-style map and searchable listing, also offers ratings by people using those services and people in a particular network. It also provides for real time mobile phone or Web based updates – put out by both the network members and social service providers themselves. When beds become available at a particular shelter, or free medical checkups are made available (without a long wait time), for example, users receive an instant text notification and can search the location on their mobile device. They would also get continuing notifications if/when conditions change and could call a friend in the network directly, who may be at the location, to get a real time scoop.

These same type of location-based information and networking services could also be used during natural disasters as a way to keep people informed and connected as situations unfold.

Of course there are the all important question of whether or not the homeless or other people would use such services, and if social services and public safety officials have the capacity to manage them? It wouldn’ t take much to find out though…

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