Number Plates For Social Networking

Bump Network is one of 70 companies chosen by VentureBeat to launch at the DEMO Fall 2010 event taking place this week in Silicon Valley. After our selection, the companies pay a fee to present. Our coverage of them remains objective.

We spend a lot of time isolated in our cars on the road — five years of our lives, on average. But  Bump Network aims to turn the streets into a social network by linking people through license plates. To that end, the company is unveiling today at the DEMO Fall 2010 conference in Silicon Valley.

When Bump users see someone in a car they want to communicate with, they take a picture of the person’s license plate. The Bump iPhone app (pictured right) or a similar BlackBerry app passes along a message, like “Way to use turn signals” or “Would you like to go on a date?”

If the person has claimed their license plate on and verified they are the car’s owner, they’ll receive the roadside missive by text message or email. They could then look up your identity page (anonymous messages aren’t allowed) and decide whether to respond.

Mitch Thrower, chief executive of Bump Network, believes meeting people through their cars makes perfect sense. He thinks of Bump as creating a real world equivalent of websites’ cookie files, a kind of tracking mechanism that can tell others about your interests and movements.

Thrower acknowledges that there are a lot of red flags that go up when you’re talking about driving cars and communicating. Safety and privacy are a couple of big issues. Why would you possibly want someone else to know who you are and where you’re going in a car?

But he says Bump has figured out how to deal with those issues. If Bump detects through your iPhone’s built-in accelerometer that you are moving more than five miles per hour, it won’t let you send a text message. Instead, you’ll use a voice interface to speak the license plate and message.