Have onboard Wi-Fi? See what's happening below

A new service called MondoWindow, which launched into alpha today, aims to give airline passengers a way to see in real time what's on the ground below them.

A new service called MondoWindow will make it possible for those airplane passengers with onboard Wi-Fi to see what's on the ground below them in real time. MondoWindow

Have you often looked out the window of a plane and wished you could find out about what you're seeing down below? Thanks to a new service that went into alpha testing today, you could soon do just that.

Known as MondoWindow, the service aims to let anyone onboard a Wi-Fi-enabled plane get real-time information about the places they're flying over. And as the service gets more sophisticated, it will likely add all kinds of additional features like audio programming, videos, and games, all related specifically to the places you can see five miles below you.

MondoWindow comes from Greg Dicum, the author of a hit series of books called "Window Seat," which has static information on a lot of the locations on popular plane routes. But with the new service, Dicum and his co-founder, Tyler Sterkle, are hoping to mash this general concept up with the power of the Internet and geo-tagged content.

And with a third of U.S. flights now offering passengers Wi-Fi --and growing quickly--MondoWindow would seem to have a very large potential audience.

The idea behind the service is that a user will be able to get real-time looks at content linked to the geography below. In its invite-only alpha stage, MondoWindow is showing just publicly-available content from Wikipedia and Flickr. Which means that so far, what you can see when you play with the site--it allows you to pretend you're on a flight, and shows you what you'd be seeing out the window right now--is heavy with pictures of people's babies, their cats, and other assorted and random things.

A photo of MondoWindow being used onboard a Wi-Fi-enabled plane on a laptop, an iPhone, and an iPad. MondoWindow

Indeed, because MondoWindow knows that sites like Flickr are so heavily populated with pictures of people's cats, it will eventually offer users a cats-on or cats-off option that will allow people to skip kitty pictures.

For now, all the content that's available through the site is tied to specific geo-tagged locations. But in an interview with CNET, Dicum explained that soon, the service will also offer "regional" content, more in-depth information about, say, the high plains, or the state of Texas, or anything along those lines.

In some ways, the general regional content promises to be more interesting than the geo-tagged information because it will have more context and more depth, while the location-based content will likely tend to have a heavier emphasis on people's personal photos and the like. The two combined, however, would seem to offer a wealth of information about what's on the ground below.

Over time, Dicum said, MondoWindow hopes that it will be able to offer location-based audio and video programming, and even games. The games, Dicum explained, might task users with picking out points on the ground below, or other Risk-like gameplay. He joked that he wants to offer a "bombing run" type of game, but that gets shouted down in meetings when he brings it up.

In the early going, MondoWindo hopes to make money with an ad-supported model. Dicum thinks that there is a lot of advertising opportunity when dealing with a captive audience onboard planes, especially when the advertisers will know precisely where the users are going.

Later on, he continued, the company hopes to work with sponsors, including the airlines themselves, the providers of onboard Wi-Fi, and all manner of content companies. Dicum said the company feels its service offers these sponsors a very attractive way to reach passengers without having to go through the "gatekeepers" in the sloth-like onboard entertainment industry.

At the same time, Dicum said he thinks that airlines will be eager to have passengers use MondoWindow because the service will offer them a concrete reason to pay for onboard Wi-Fi.

And Dicum said he thinks that MondoWindow, especially when the service is fully fleshed out, will give passengers a compelling alternative to the onboard entertainment systems that he thinks are stuck in a pre-Internet mindset and which offer little more than "dumb talking dog movies."

In its early stages, MondoWindow will be available to anyone in the continental United States. Not long after, Dicum said, it should be rolled out on flights to and from European, and then the company will try to tackle the rest of the flying world.

Over time, the service will offer the standard set of social media options, making it possible for passengers to tweet and update Facebook from within the MondoWindow application, and also to check in on Foursquare.

As well, the service will feature content from Dicum's own books, and he hopes that it will also be able to include material from other books full of geographic content.

Ultimately, we all find ourselves looking for ways to avoid reading the in-flight magazines when we're on a plane, and for those who are enthralled with what's on the ground 35,000 feet below, MondoWindow could well be among the first-ever way to truly keep us engaged and happy, even if we have to pay $25 to check in a suitcase.

 

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