You are running low on gas, you know that you will drive past 15 gas stations on your commute home, but you don’t know who has the best price. (Sure, you could have checked prices on the commute to work this morning, but you were jet-lagged, or busy spilling coffee on your newspaper, or rocking out to The Black Crowes on the radio. Whatever.)
Assuming you don’t want to backtrack, as you approach each station you have to make an implicit calculation: is this price likely to be the best I can get, or should I drive on. By why guess when all the necessary information is publicly available? Wouldn’t it be better if you knew who had the lowest price before you left work?
In a technological smashup of immense potential, an innovative web programmer has combined data from Gasbuddy.com with the mapping technology of Google Maps, and produced Cheap Gas. (Inspired, as he admits, by a site that does much the same with Google Maps and real estate ads from Craigslist.)
Pick your location, and Cheap Gas will show you gas prices on the map. At the present the technology suffers from the limitations of the source materials – Gasbuddy reports are submitted by consumer-volunteers, and so the data is spotty, not entirely standardized, and not necessarily current; Google Maps doesn’t handle vague addresses well. These are temporary problems.
Some day, and soon, your high end automobile navigation systems will not only show you the road ahead, but where the best gas prices can be found along the way.
(And, of course, this technology should make it much easier for the Maryland state government to prevent low gasoline prices.)
Tip o’ the hat to John Battelle’s SearchBlog, who also notes a site that maps Chicago crime reports using the Google Maps technology. (Yes, you can use the site to find out where the Narcotics action is, but so far no price data is available.)