Media 54, where are you?

I hate to toot my own horn, but I am one of the world’s best passengers.

Just give me a lift sometime (say, from my apartment in downtown Toronto to the boonies where most IT companies have their headquarters) and you’ll see that it’s true. I’m happy to put up with whatever may happen in

a vehicle, probably because I can’t stand driving a car. If you brake so suddenly that my head nearly crashes through the windshield, I just keep on talking away. I see this as the passenger’s role: telling funny stories, pointing out interesting pieces of scenery and doing whatever I can to make the driver feel at ease. Grateful for not having to actually drive myself anywhere, I find it very difficult to say anything critical. If I absolutely had to, I suppose I’d just get in another car and send a text message.

This option became available to me Thursday with the North American launch of TextJam, a short message service (SMS) offered by Cleveland, UK-based Media54. The consultant describes it as a dynamic opt-in directory that will allow motorists to send text messages to other drivers using a mobile phone. The press release boasted of the service’s ease of use: “”In fact, to register, a simple text message to the TEXTJAM message center with you cars’ (sic) number plate & you’re on!””

I did visit the site, and the intro says it all: a TextJam logo on an black screen background, then a cell phone comes dancing along. “”BEEP BEEP”” shouts the message on its green display screen. In the distance, two cars slowly come driving up to fill the rest of the space. The company’s slogan? “”Driving people together.””

Anyone who (like me) shudders to see people speaking on a mobile phone while driving through rush-hour traffic can only recoil at the thought of them glancing down at their keypads to type out angry missives. Media 54 is apparently aware of this: “”We see the service as a ‘neighbourhood watch’ scheme for drivers,”” claims Media 54’s Mike Andrews (whose title appears as simply research and development). “”How many times do we return to our vehicles only to find a scratch or a bump left by a careless driver? In most cases, somebody sees the offender drive off as if nothing has happened. A simple text message to the vehicle’s number plate could alert the owner. This service has nothing to do with texting whilst driving, it’s not the intention nor do we feel the public will see it in that way.””

Allow me to give Andrews and the rest of Media 54 a mental tune-up: that’s exactly how they will feel. Andrews’ statement even contradicts the teaser at the top of the press release (“”Has road rage moved into the wireless age? It certainly appears that way””) and certainly runs counter to common sense. The only altruistic (and I use the word loosely) use for this service that I can imagine is getting your phone number to another driver; the matchbook of the 21st century if you will.

On the other hand, there may be little cause for concern. There is something so satisfying about pounding your first on the car horn and hearing that reassuring blast. It’s hard to channel the same energy into typing. It is difficult to imagine a sea of vehicles on the 401 eerily silent as SMS messages move back and forth. Backing this up is recent Yankee Group research that says only five per cent of Canadians are interested in SMS, while 42 have no interest at all.

If nothing else, you have to hand it to Media 54 for trying to extend a potentially killer application to the most mobile users of all. If you’re going to push short message services, you might as go where they’re all using four-letter words.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Shane Schick
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