Bump It


Don't worry - I'm not talking about the must-have plastic hair accessory of the decade, which gives women the bouffant they've always dreamed of.  No, this is about the newest social networking tool soon to hit the market, Bump.

Bump is hitting the road this November with the lofty goal of transforming the boring license plate into a mechanism for social networking.   According to the Bump website, US drivers spend an average of 46 minutes commuting each day.  The missed opportunity Bump sees is that we could be using these moments to be connected to the world around us.  License plate recognition and smartphone technology allows business to connect with drivers, and drivers to connect with other drivers.

There are clear benefits for businesses involved with Bump.  Not only will they have access to commuter tracking, allowing them to see their consumers' shopping habits, but they can even target Bump-enabled smartphone users with rewards coupons as they pull into a parking lot.  They'll also benefit from enthusiast marketing, data research, and lead generation to online and interactive commerce.  Ka-ching!

But what’s in it for the consumer?

The benefits (once they get over that whole "big brother is watching" feeling) seem small in comparison: connecting with other drivers (though text messaging is disabled while the car is in motion), assigning a poor rating to someone who cuts them off (though I don't find that nearly as satisfying as laying on the horn), and automated check-ins at hotels and sporting events.  Based on this, it’s hard to see how something like Bump will improve our social experience.  Besides, phones are already enough of a distraction to drivers, let alone trying to study the license plate of the pretty girl (or guy) in the car next to you.

What bothers me is that it seems like Bump took a backwards approach to creating a new social network – putting business first over social interaction.  Sites like Facebook and Twitter were designed with the social element as its driving force, genuinely seeking a way to streamline human interaction.  Could the transparency behind Bump being a vessel for business marketing purposes potentially be a turnoff to users?

In a recent article featured on Wired's Autopia blog, Bump creator Mitchell Thrower says "the license plate has never given the consumer anything."  But does anybody really expect anything from their license plate to begin with?  Is the market ready for yet another social media tool after they’ve updated their Facebook status, tweeted, and checked in on Foursquare?  And do we really need to be constantly connected to everyone and everything for every waking hour of every waking day?

These are the questions that Bump will ultimately answer.  Despite my criticisms, I've already registered for a beta key (if anyone from Bump is reading this, umm… my name is really John Doe).  I'm genuinely curious to see how this all plays out and welcome the opportunity to be proven wrong.