Five 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.