GeoRating — your phone wants to know

Last month, I sketched out how geotagging could be useful in major emergencies— such as knowing, should your community be ravished by wildfires, when it is safe to move back (under the presumption that your neighbors have been geotagging their own photos). As such catastrophes don’t happen every day, such an idea will take a while to get traction. Maybe another tack is necessary.

Tonight I wandered over to the BostonNOW website where I read this portentous headline in the community blogs: “AMC’s disgraceful Boston Common multiplex is now a national embarrassment.”

Wow. The worst experience I had in theater theater (enduring that endless stream of high nonsense called Children of Men) was from the Loews days when The House of the Flying Daggers was ruined by the outbursts of laughter at particularly dramatic times. Other than that, I never noticed the actual theaters much. From what I read, the BostonNOW “bostonpopcorn” critic had come across a blog post by Jeffrey Wells, a “nationally known blogger” who blasted the theater for its crummy projection of Sweeney Todd had during a critics screening. Wells, an LA-based film critic was visiting Boston, reviewed his readers’ comments and continued the point today:

The underlying factor is that most moviegoers don’t seem to even notice when projection standards are poor (largely because they’ve never seen films projected the right way, as they are in studio screening rooms and theaters like L.A.’s Arclight), and of these 99.9% would rather suffer in silence than speak up.

There’s our problem. Just where do we speak up?

Ever get a chance to see a tree falling in a forest? Neither have I. No one will hear of Wells’ plaint outside of the cinephiles that read his blog. Contary to statements about the growing power of the net, very few blog gripes amplify into a mass action. In deciding where to see a movie (all things being equal), you are more apt to trust your own prejudices than somebody in the trade press you’ve likely never read.

Second of all, something as obscure as movie theater ratings will never see enough critical mass from collective judgment given voluntarily. People aren’t as motivated to rate movie theaters, as say, restaurants. (To say nothing about collective data collection — if an area film geek has put together a website listing the technical specifications of each movie theater, such as the size of the screens, this casual movie lover hasn’t found it.)

So we need a way to make it easier for people to fill out rating data.

Consider: the only technology that knows more about you than Facebook is your mobile phone. But your phone doesn’t show anywhere near the love that Facebook does (after all, Facebook’s persistent need to know about your life and your friends’ lives is a sign that it really cares.) So, let’s assume that your phone’s GPS is accurate to within 50 meters. It can likely figure out which movie theater you’re at when you enter it, and when you turn your phone off. When you turn it back on, it’s already queried the movies listings to guess what you might have seen. It can directly ask you what you thought of it (and, while you’re at it, any complaints about the the theater). Ditto for restaurants, plays, concerts, parking garages, and all the way down to… public restrooms (As a shareholder of Exxon-Mobil and a user of their interstate bathrooms, this is something of mild importance. Do I really want to announce publicly to the clerk about the smell?)

Certainly, the hospitality/entertainment industry has had gotten along fine for many years with feedback cards. But maybe the next generation (counting mine) won’t put the same degree of trust in paper submitted forms. And, consider this– when you give instant feedback on a poor experience, you might get an instant response.

If this is a bankable idea, I suppose that someone’s already working on it. It’s trivial to write the software. Harder yet is to ink the deals with the major carriers for exclusive or prominent listing. If a person has to type in a URL to access this service, there’s nothing special about it. But it would be nice for someone to do it before Apple or Google gets there.