If you’re reading this blog post, chances are you already have the OpenSignal app running on your smartphone. If so, you’re part of a community millions-strong sharing information about their mobile network’s connections. All of that information goes into databases that anyone can access on OpenSignal’s website to find the best performing networks in their area.
It’s the perfect example of crowdsourcing technology – collecting bits of information that on their own aren’t that useful, but when combined with millions of other data points paint a much more meaningful picture. OpenSignal isn’t the only app that makes use of crowdsourcing techniques, though. Here are some favorites of my own as well as those of the OpenSignal team.
- Waze: Now owned by Google, Waze is still the king of crowdsourced traffic apps. You use it like any other navigation app, but the traffic data you see on screen is sourced in real-time from other nearby Waze drivers reporting on their traffic speeds, road congestion and even obstacles on the road.
- Moovit: The Waze of transit, Moovit collects real-time information on trains, buses, trams or any other form of public transportation. You can use Moovit to find the closest metro station, track how close your bus is to your local stop and receive alerts warning you of system congestions and even line closures.
- FlightRadar24: While Moovit looks to ground transportation, FlightRadar24 scans the skies. FlightRadar’s community of global volunteers collect transponder data transmitted directly by aircraft overhead, creating a database that can track the location of most of the world’s flights in real time.
- FireChat: Developed by Open Garden, FireChat isn’t crowdsourcing information so much as it’s crowdsourcing connections. FireChat-loaded phones automatically link up through Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections creating hyperlocal chat networks. Very useful if you’re at a music festival and want to tap into the local buzz or are a political dissident trying to communicate with your peers at a protest rally.
- Food52 Hotline: One of my personal favorites, Hotline is a mobile and web app developed by recipe site Food52 to provide immediate answers to cooking questions. Type your question (for instance “To what internal temperature should I cook a whole duck?”) into the interface, and it will be sent off to Food52’s community of cooks. It’s not unusual to get a response within minutes.
- OpenStreetMap: The granddaddy of open-source, crowd collaboration projects, OpenStreetMap is still going strong after 11 years, and hundreds of thousands of amateur cartographers have contributed map points to its database. You can use OSM on its own, but chances are you’ve encountered its maps in other apps and websites such as Foursquare and Craigslist.
- Mapillary: Google’s Street View may be a handy way to pick out landmarks on a map, but its drive-by photography isn’t exactly pretty. Crowdsourced street photo app Mapillary wants to change that, asking its users to map the streets, parks and points of interest in their cities through compelling photos.
- WeatherSignal: We couldn’t really do a blog post about crowdsourcing without mentioning OpenSignal’s own climate-mapping app WeatherSignal. By measuring temperature changes in the phone’s battery, WeatherSignal can infer local temperature even on the most basic smartphones, but more sophisticated phones with larger sensor arrays can measure barometric pressure, humidity and even magnetic fields.
Have a favorite crowdsourcing app of your own? Be sure and tell us about it in the comments section!
Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Kevin Fitchard who is a journalist covering the mobile industry and wireless technology. He most recently wrote for Gigaom.