August 2.0

August is a dead month for most big italian cities; every year, Mayors strive to demonstrate that places like Milan do not completely shut down, also because there is about 30% of citizens who do not go on holiday, and buying a loaf of bread or a liter of milk becomes an ordeal. This year, for the first time, I will be joining this group, as my holiday schedule got scrambled by the renovation works in the new house, so I admit have a vested interest in it.

Being Milano rich and modern, they have devised an online solution which is this minisite, where you can search for e.g. bars open close to our office.

I guess this is better than having to rely on newspapers lists, but why not a mobile app? Is it so inconceivable that I need this information when NOT at the office, where presumably I already know which bars are open? I tried using the site on my iPad, but – alas – the dropdown menus are done in Flash, so I have no way to select any type of store that does not start with an “A” because I cannot navigate the list beyond that letter. Very, very clever!

Moreover, a mobile app would use my GPS fix to find bars close to where I am (à la Foursquare); and, once I have it installed on my mobile phone, it could morph into a conduit for other types of retail-related services the city could push my way: sales, discounts, coupons…

Obviously the City Hall was not alone in realizing this is a problem that could be addressed with technology: newspapers who spew mountains of ink complaining about it, jumped at the opportunity and developed their own solution: the one below comes from il Corriere della Sera, our largest circulation daily

At least it does not use Flash, so I can use it all right on my iPad (but of course not on any mobile device that doesn’t have the same amount of screen real estate); the curious twist is that I can search by type of store OR by location, but not both (WTF?) and the distance from the typed-in location (no GPS, of course!) is arbitrarily decided by the site: I can zoom out the  map, yes, but it will continue to show the same dots. So bloody clever !

One of the many cases where the solution is devised by a person that has never to use it…

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