Last week, my TomTom satnav app kept trying to send me the wrong way down a one-way street in Peckham, south London. This was mildly annoying – although fortunately I've got sufficient sense of direction to successfully execute emergency procedures.
The app does regularly update its maps, but it inevitably depends to some extent on users flagging up the appearance of no-entry signs, speed limits and roadblocks. Sadly, we often can't be bothered. I certainly know that as I navigated my way through the back streets of Nunhead, the last thing I wanted to do was contact TomTom to advise them of the error.
By their very nature, some apps depend on crowdsourced feedback to improve, and it seems that the key is making the information-gathering process as hassle-free for us as possible.
Take Streetbump, an initiative in Boston, Massachusetts, where potholes are located by sensing speed and accelerometer data from participating vehicles. It requires you to install the app, and it requires you to knacker your suspension by driving over the pothole, but all the rest is automated.
Music recommendation apps quietly pool our listening habits to make "if you like that, you'll like this" suggestions to others. Apps such as Weathersignal transform advanced Android phones into mini-weather stations, sensing temperatures and pressures, and feeding that information back for other users to benefit from – but again, this requires minimal involvement from us.
One exception to the rule is the free satnav app, Waze. Just purchased by Google, Waze has somehow managed to create a devoted network of users who seem incredibly keen to actively report traffic jams, road accidents, even cheap fuel prices, creating a rich, ever-changing corpus of useful data that's worth, according to the Google purchase price, close to $1bn.
If TomTom made me care as much as Waze makes its users care, I'd be reporting that no-entry sign in Peckham right now. But how to actually achieve that, I've no idea.