While countries like the United States, Canada, Australia, the UK, and others are making good strides around the use of social media and other collaborative solutions and strategies, countries like Spain are just getting started. I learned of an interesting effort underway in Madrid, an effort to make Madrid a Smarter City, and I had to reach out to the people involved to learn more.
Jose Angel works as an R&D Consultant at Anova IT Consulting, a Spanish company which focuses on Business Strategy Consulting, R&D&I and Technological Services. The information he shared with me, after receiving the proper approvals, opened my eyes. One of these days I will have to get over to Spain and work with these folks as they are doing some truly good work.
Q. What do you mean when you speak of making Madrid a Smarter City?
A. When we talk about making Madrid a Smarter City, we talk about making it smarter for the citizens, about developing applications that will make their lives easier. That’s our main goal. The main idea of the Project I am working on is to optimize the existing transport infrastructure by creating a sensor network that will lead us to create a real-time map of Madrid traffic.
That will allow us to develop mobile applications for the citizens so they can avoid traffic jams, get valuable information about where is the nearest parking spot, or to detect the position of public transport services allowing us to synchronize them in the future.
I am a follower of Bill Chamberlin´s Horizons Watching blog (Social Insights Consultant @IBM), and while we were developing our proposal, I just saw his last post. “I see a future where Advanced Traveler Information Systems are capable of advising travelers of suggested travel route changes due to traffic congestion changes…all in real-time.” So I just say hey, we are going in the right direction.
Q. What return on investment are you expecting to see with these efforts?
A. Right now we are at a stage where we expect the project to be approved by the Ministry of Industry. That will allow us to obtain mixed funding to begin its development.
One of the ideas is to make the applications a collaborative network. Thus, the effectiveness of the parking application will increase as it does the number of people using it since one of the principles on which it relies is to redirect the citizens to the nearest parking avoiding that two drivers using the system go to the same spot
In order to reach a bigger audience we will allow downloading the application for free. After a year we will charge an annual fee that will allows us to maintain the network.
Q. In the US there is a big move to make 311 (non-emergency services) more open, via social media and open data, to citizens. Is there anything similar underway in Madrid, Spain, the EU?
A. While working on the project I just saw a web called Seeclickfix. It is undoubtedly a brilliant idea to connect citizens with their local government. But it’s an application that no one is using in Madrid. On the other hand our City Council has an excellent website that allows multiple online activities related to the administrative field, however the communication between rulers and citizens by social media is not happening. I guess we are still in Government 1.0.
Q. Are you familiar with location-based services like Foursquare and Gowalla? Are there similar services being used in Madrid?
A. Yeah, I know Foursquare. Indeed Dennis Crowley was recently in Spain, but I am not an active user and to be honest I did not knew the existence of Gowalla till you mention it in the question. However, I foresee a promising future for those kinds of projects as they evolve to provide useful information to their users. Our vision of such services was more limited. Just suited for tourism promotion.
Last year we were working on an idea to integrate those services into tourist guides through augmented reality browsers, so we could offer the tourist a different vision of the city by getting him into an immersive game. The project was approved by the Ministry of Industry and is currently in development.
Q. What role do social networks play in Madrid, in Spain? Which are the most popular?
A. In Spain they are two major social networks. Facebook and Tuenti. In fact Tuenti was co-founded by a former classmate. Twitter is starting to take off. Indeed it was translated a few months ago. However, the use of these networks is just mainly about communicating with colleagues and friends. By contrast, the use of professional networks is extremely limited. While I have almost all my friends on Facebook only ten of them have created a profile on LinkedIn. I guess as soon as people start to realize the potential of this networks they will grow exponential.