Google Offers Social Parking App: Open Spot

Google has introduced a social network (of sorts) for parking: Open Spot. Before you say, "How is Google gonna find open parking spots?" it's actually fairly simple and clever. The idea behind the new Android app is to create a network of people telling each other where there's available parking locally.

Open Spot app users indicate when they're leaving a spot. The phone's location awareness finds/locates that person on the map and broadcasts that information to other Open Spot users.

Spots are hypothetically "open" for a maximum of 20 minutes. There's a color-coded, time-based system to indicate the probability that spots remain open. According to the FAQs:

  • Spots are removed from the map after 20 minutes. We know that 20 minutes is a long time for a parking spot to stay open, but we think that more information about available parking is better than less.
  • Red pins are freshly-marked spots.
  • Orange pins are spots marked over 5 minutes ago.
  • Yellow pins are spots marked over 10 minutes ago.

Humorously Google has even created a name for those who might try and fool others by creating fake parking spots: "Griefers."

We call these people ‘griefers’. We’re watching for behavior that looks like a griefer spoofing parking spots. We have a couple of mechanisms available to make sure someone can’t leave a bunch of fake parking spots. If we see this happening we will take steps to fix it. 

This is a very clever and social approach to parking inventory. It sidesteps the creation of databases and other potentially costly or unwieldy mechanisms that could be used to indicate available spots. The drawback is that it requires people to download an app and join the network. 

Paradoxically this is a network that you don't want to be too small or too large. Too small and you don't have enough "inventory." Too large and you may have too much competition for that inventory. However, at least in theory, as the network grows so too will the available parking spots.