Friday, January 30, 2009

Lost Dogs 2.0

This morning my wife woke me up in a frantic state. She had just been out walking our puppy when he broke away from her and ran into a busy street. He had been trying to greet another dog, and then managed to run into King St. Fortunately, no cars hit Captain and she was able to get him back quickly. The other dog somehow also broke loose during the crisis, and ran off into an industrial area. He was found unscathed a few hours later.

The incident got me thinking about how technology can help find lost dogs. A lost dog is usually a very local problem. This is obviously why people tend to post signs around the neighborhood or just spread the word. On the internet people have tried setting up websites, posting on Craigslist, Yelp, or dog focused sites. While using the internet to inform people is one useful strategy, a larger audience is not necessarily more effective if it is not the right audience. A personal website or even a dog website won't be very useful if it doesn't target the two mile radius where the dog was lost.

Even with a fairly targeted internet audience, the message is most useful when it is being read at or near the location and in a timely fashion. This makes mobile the best delivery method. A number of mobile platforms and technologies exist that can be better leveraged to reunite lost dogs and owners. Currently, Twitter is probably one of the most effective and easy to use. Anyone can create a Twitter for lost dogs in their local area. This list can easily be used by any of the Twitter followers. (Check out my San Francisco lost dog twitter "SFLostDog"). However, Twitter's main shortcomings are that it does not inherently know your location, and the feed needs to be established well before the incident.

A number of location based mobile applications are now gaining popularity. These applications could also be leveraged to find a lost dog. Today I sent the lost dog message out on my Loopt iPhone client. The Mix feature on Loopt lets you connect with anyone in your local area. This is targeted at dating, friendship, and networking - but why not lost dogs? Unfortunately, Loopt also has a number of shortcomings; primarily, the iPhone's inability to run applications in the background, the size of the user base, and the number of people with a compatible mobile phone. These same problems would also be true for any lost dog-specific iPhone application.

On the cutting edge of technology, ad hoc mesh networks provide and interesting potential solution. One of my classmates at the MIT Media Lab was working on a platform for distributing local news events through an ad hoc mesh network. Essentially, the event would be broadcast for x number of hops through the mesh network. For example, I send out the notification and anyone within five hops/connections of me would get the message.

For now it seems like Twitter is the best solution. I'd love to hear of any other potential solutions - until then, please join the SF Lost Dog twitter if you're in San Francisco.

1 comment:

  1. This was a really scary incident and were are so thankful both dogs are ok! I think it highlights the importance of good training & good leash control, even in times of crisis- both dogs & owners were clearly freaked. It also demonstrates how important it is to get the word out fast when a dog is lost...