Why are there no good toilet finding apps?

logoFive years ago, when watching Steve Jobs introduce the concept of apps on the iPhone, I had an idea. It was to build an app that would allow you to find the nearest public toilet with the push of a button. I actually investigated doing this in Australia. The full story is here but the short version is that it turned out that the Australian government did in fact have an online maps of all toilets — the National Public Toilet Map — that was part of the National Continence Management Strategy. At the time, for obscure reasons, they would not release the data for use which pretty much scuttled my plans. I wrote an opinion piece that was cited by a subsequent government report, Gov 2.0, and played a small role in freeing up the data. The Australian government also released their own official app along with encouraging the development of others.

In researching for an upcoming TEDxUofT talk I am giving on entrepreneurship, I decided to look at the state of public toilet mapping around the world; in particular, the US and Canada. And what I found was not good. In the US, the leading app was Sit or Squat which was acquired a few years ago by Charmin’. It had some crowdsourcing and ratings initially but clearly, from the reviews in the app store, is no longer doing the job. There are other options but near as I can tell (and I am sure someone will alert me otherwise), these apps really suffer from poor map data. (The best option, by the way, seems to be Where to Wee).

When you think about it, of course, is this really a job for an independent developer? This seems more like the core function of a maps app on a mobile phone. But ask Siri for the nearest public toilets and the answer is that there are none close by. And search for public toilet on Google Maps (even in Australia) and you are directed to plumbers or toilet retailers.

The idea that phones should find toilets is pretty damn obvious. Indeed, it was featured (as something that was successful) in the Seinfeld reunion season of Curb Your Enthusiasm (called of course, iToilet). Great minds think alike! So why is it that this mapping exercise has not been completed anywhere but in Australia? Can it be that public toilet mapping is a pure public good? Any answers in the comments would be appreciated.

11 Replies to “Why are there no good toilet finding apps?”

  1. Probably because so few women write apps. We are the ones who care most about toilets, not being able to just whip it out and pee against a tree …

  2. I would expect a crowdsourced solution like the ones I’ve seen for gas prices. Are there not enough people who need the service to support such crowdsourcing? I know I generally never need to find a public bathroom, though this is changing now that I’m a parent. There are plenty of parents though.

  3. I’m making an online map http://beta.findtoilet.dk/ here in Denmark where 98 councils will deliver toiletdata and also update and delete so toiletdata should be up-to-date all the time, hopefully.

    At the moment it’s only Copenhagen council as a pilot project that have delivered data http://beta.findtoilet.dk/?term=2. I also give access for ALL to download these data http://beta.findtoilet.dk/feeds/municipality and make other mash-ups/apps. At the moment an Android app is made and possible because of the XML-files to use.

    All countries could make something similar so it’s possible from ONE place to download these data and use what they need.

    I’m using OpenSource Drupal and Google Maps API v3.

  4. For Android, NearestToilet.com allows you to change the Search Radius and select public or inexpensive toilets option (may need to increase search radus beyond defaut to find inexpensive toilets). It has WiKi map that provides info for neighborhood of toilets.. The focus of the app is to alert user when near a thumbsup (recommended) toilet.

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