Like Facebook? Drive a car?
I won’t begin my pitch by saying I hate Facebook or that I don’t get it. I really do. My problem is that I could never have got the idea past its conceptual stages, simply because I wouldn’t have imagined anyone — let alone hundreds of millions of people — finding it so endlessly fascinating.
Rather than lose another gold mine, I’m proposing a brand new social networking service called Drive-In, which links drivers all over the globe. Instead of signing up by name, people will sign up by licence plate numbers.
The fun starts by making it an invitation-only service, building a high degree of expectation among people who haven’t yet received their free pass to automotive social networking nirvana. Have you been excluded? Perhaps you have a boring licence plate number or the car you drive is not exciting enough to inspire an invitation. Non-invitees will be left to think about this for some time as jealousy and feelings of inadequacy eat away at them.
Instead of signing in, members will start their engines. They will then drive all over this generous site, posting information about cars, trips they’ve taken and complaints about repair bills. They will post photos of themselves with their cars and photos of their cars alone.
Drive-In’s dating site will help match compatible couples by their attitudes toward their vehicles. Once an acceptable “match” has been established, their cars will produce a litter of hybrids, which will appear as floating icons as long as they remain a couple.
I will intrigue members to form groups based on arbitrary criteria. “Here are some groups suggested for you.” Cars currently driving in Edmonton or Victoria! Cars by manufacturer! Cars by colour! Cars by dealership or country of origin! Licence plate combinations containing the same algorithm! People driving only stolen cars!
Discussion moderators will be called “Patrol Officers” and technical staff will be known as “Mechanics.” No actual staff will fill these positions, but users will be supplied with a series of human-like responses to complaints and queries until they’re eventually worn down.
From time to time, I will send out meaningless notices to members who don’t show up often enough to fatten the bottom line: “We noticed you haven’t started your engine for a while. You have missed some popular stories. WJX 786 has passed 92A 5603 on the highway. DCA 4333 commented on XEW 5673’s driver. WAK 7934 likes 387 C402’s repair status. See all notifications at Drive-In.”
From my lofty perch, I’ll mine the information of the user community, compiling information on makes, models, vehicle identification numbers and licence plates.
I’ll sell millions of dollars of advertising to car manufacturers, car service companies, suppliers of automotive sundries and anyone else with cash.
People discussing their Hyundai Pony will receive advertisements for stables and oats. Ford Taurus owners will be deluged with ads offering astrological readings. Smart Car owners will be invited to join MENSA.
This will be covered in a user agreement that nobody will read. It will begin with the phrase: “Drive-In treats the privacy of its members with the utmost respect …” The site will indeed treat private information with the respect this commodity deserves, allowing it to be seen only by the highest bidder (and any third party offering something to sell).
Eventually, word will emerge that private member information has escaped into the wide world.
First will come denial — my own. Anger — on the part of site members. Bargaining — “I’ll stay on the site only if you rescind your regressive privacy policies.” Depression — “This sucks.” Acceptance — “This is still the best free automotive social networking site and all my car-driving friends are here.”
At this point, I intend to use the first million in profits to buy an abandoned automotive industrial building that will be renovated into the site’s fabulous headquarters and retrofitted for natural lighting. Nerdy, creative employees will be free to drink lattes and play video games involving car races, provided they meet all daily financial targets. Drive-in trays larded with free vegan burgers and healthy fruit sodas will be clamped to their desks.
At some point, I’ll start a vicious rumour that “Drive-In is going to go all pay,” whipping people into a speculative frenzy. After allowing the rumour to fester, I’ll send out a calming message. “Drive-In has always been a free service and will continue to be a free service for all eternity.”
Drive-In Premium … well, that’s another service altogether.
Photograph by: SEBASTIAN WILLNOW, AFP/Getty Images