i-507493ebee99377352807d9756a5eeee-SeedSpeak500-thumb-250x84-1858.jpgOne of the joys of living in Phoenix, besides the winters, is the local airport. Sky Harbor bills itself as the nation’s friendliest airport and, while I won’t go that far, I love the fact that you can get in and out with minimal hassle. Even with construction to build a tram system linking the economy parking to the terminals and the terminals to the city’s new light rail system, getting around the airport is still a breeze.

The only issue I’ve ever had with Sky Harbor is its signage. After a long, late flight from the East Coast, I always have to remember which side of the airport houses the right shuttle stop to the right parking lot. Signs cryptically tell you that the North Side is that way and the South Side is this way — but no mention of which exit holds the key to the East Lot Economy Shuttle.

For years, all I could do is complain to myself or to my sleepy little boy.

Until now.

How SeedSpeak Works

Four months after receiving our initial funding from the Knight News Challenge, I hold in my hand the SeedSpeak iPhone app (in beta) and it’s on. Bam! I snap a picture of the confusing signage and write a suggestion that the airport authority make it a little clearer on what side and outside of which door one can find the right shuttle. My seed of an idea is geo-tagged at the airport’s location and almost immediately “liked” by a small cadre of test users.

Back at the office, I can watch from SeedSpeak’s beta site to see what happens to my idea — mostly if others are giving it the thumbs up. Soon, if all goes according to plan, the airport authority can either respond or let us know when the new signs are in place, which would constitute a completed or “harvested” seed.

Lots of Interest, Testing

A couple of days later, I’m demonstrating SeedSpeak to public administrators at a local conference and immediately one official, who is looking for an inexpensive way for Phoenix to geotag requests for certain types of inspections, is interested. A union official in the Bay Area asks if his members can use the mobile app to tag houses left to rot by bank neglect. Yes and yes. A hyper-local media company wants to know more.

The road to any new innovation takes many twists and turns, as any budding entrepreneur knows. The key to success is to be as flexible as possible and be prepared for those shifts in thinking that might differ from the original concept. And, for journalists especially, it is important to get the concept done. Theory is hard to test. Prototype is much easier.

The next step for SeedSpeak is to get the mobile version in the app store and test it more in the wild, with real users, including citizens, local officials, area politicians, small businesses and media partners. We have thought of additional functionality and are grateful that our technology partner, Gate6, believes in the project and will complete those add-ons over the next few weeks as we test what we’ve built so far.

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