Open Source Subnet An independent Open Source community View more

Want to text strangers on the road? Now you can

New service links license plate numbers to cellphones, so passersby can send an anonymous text message informing a stranger if his or her car is parked illegally.

A new service alled CurbTXT allows strangers to contact each other to inform them of parking or general car problems. From the company's website:

A lot of things can go wrong when parking a car in the city. We think instant, direct, and anonymous communication can alleviate a lot of the parking issues people have with their vehicles and the vehicles of others. Before CurbTXT, no one could reach you if your left your car’s lights on, for instance, unless they knew you and your car. Now with CurbTXT, anybody with a cell phone can be a good Samaritan.

Users register on the company website by submitting their cellphone number, license plate information, and zip code. A concerned passerby - say, someone whose driveway is blocked by an illegally parked car - can send a text message with the license plate number and the complaint to CurbTXT's designated number. CurbTXT relays that message to the car owner without revealing who sent the message in the first place. Ideally, it's a good way to solve a common parking conflict without causing a riff with your neighbors.

One problem is that the vehicle's owner needs to have registered for CurbTXT in order to receive the message. Registered cars will have a sticker near the rear license plate of the vehicle, and anyone, even those who don't own a car, can register for the service so they can report problems with registered cars.

If the vehicle isn’t registered, CurbTXT will text you back immediately to let you know that your message was not received. Remember: CurbTXT users should indicate that their vehicle is registered by attaching the CurbTXT sticker near their rear plate.

So, it seems, those whose neighbors need some parking advice will have to just hope they realize their faults and take it upon themselves to register for the site. But, if CurbTXT gets popular enough, it may not be long until people start suggesting the service in the hand-written notes they leave on their neighbors' windshields. That could be a genius aspect of the service - those who encounter the problem often enough may start organically marketing the service just so their neighbors will park better.

Some improvements to CurbTXT are still needed, and they appear to be coming. For example, the FAQ page explains that users are limited to connecting just one phone number to each vehicle. So couples, roommates, or friendly neighbors can't be contacted about a friend's or significant other's parking or car problem if the car owner is unreachable. Curiously, though, CurbTXT's website invites users who "own many vehicles, and are curious about registering multiple vehicles to one number" to "contact info@curbtxt.com with your inquiry."

And, of course, there lies the potential for abuse of the service. Anonymity, especially on the internet, has brought out the worst in some people, and could only become infinitely more explosive when combined with road rage. Whether this becomes an issue as CurbTXT matures, and how the company plans to address it, will be interesting to watch.

Regardless, it's an interesting entry to the growing list of web services aimed at making parking less frantic. Apps like VoicePark and ParkMe help drivers find cheap parking spots nearby. Even MIT researchers have recently showcased technology that can be used to link nearby smartphones, which could enable drivers looking for parking spots to communicate with those who may be leaving one nearby.

To comment on this article and other Network World content, visit our Facebook page or our Twitter stream.
Must read: Hidden Cause of Slow Internet and how to fix it
Notice to our Readers
We're now using social media to take your comments and feedback. Learn more about this here.