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Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Parking Lot Indicatr

Ross Mayfield has started a Flikr group called Parking Lot Indicatr, based on an old idea.

The old idea is this: People who want to check out a high-tech company (perhaps because they want to buy the product, the stock, or the whole company) can look in the carpark to detect levels of weekend working. Presumably the quality of the cars matters as well as the quantity. (If programmers never wash their cars, what does that tell you about their code?)

(In my view, this indicator may be misleading when used to compare companies, but it may be useful to detect changes or key events in a single company over time. And if we can read/record number plates and track these over an extended time period, we may detect migrations of staff from one company to another.)

The new idea is this: People who don't want to cycle around Silicon Valley can simply browse a collection of carpark photos on the Internet, contributed by volunteers.

But if you want to create a false illusion, it's very easy to get one photo of a full carpark. And if you want to show an empty carpark, you just have to take your photo at the time of a major trade show or user group conference.

So why should anyone trust these photos as an authentic indicator of what is going on? Who takes the photos, and what's their agenda? How do we interpret what we see?

Network trust appears to rely on scale. If you have large numbers of independent contributors, then someone with a falsifying agenda might stand out. But don't count on it.

And why stop at cars? Why not photograph the empty pizza boxes piled by the dustbins, the cigarette ends on the pavement. Why not snap a Bill Gates lookalike sneaking in after hours for a private demonstration of version 4.2.

What other purposes could this Flikr group serve? Errant/suspicious husbands and wives could construct/deconstruct late-at-the-office-again-dear alibis.

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