Circling a crowded neighborhood for 45 minutes looking for a parking spot is easily my least favorite part of driving. Google's latest experimental app from its Labs aims to make finding street parking just a bit easier. Appropriately dubbed Open Spot, this free app for Android phones provides a user-generated map of available parking spaces near the user's current position.
Open Spot uses the GPS positioning function present in most smartphones to track your position, displaying the surrounding area using Google Maps. At the beginning of a trip, you use Open Spot to mark the parking space you are leaving as vacant by tapping the Mark a Spot button. Google's servers then store and display this open spot to all Open Spot users for up to 20 minutes.
At the end of the trip, you pop back into the Open Spot app to view the parking spaces near you that have been reported vacant on the map. Spaces that have been reported within the last 5 minutes will be designated with red markers, and spaces reported in the last 20 minutes are marked in yellow, with shades of orange for the values in between.
Besides the obvious benefit of helping each other find parking and reducing the congestion, emissions, and maddening frustration that hunting for a spot creates, Google also rewards Open Spot users with Karma Points for each reported opening. This is presumably so that you can have something to prove what a good, nice person you are to your friends and neighbors when attempting to convince them that they should report their top-secret parking spots.
Because all of Open Spot's data is user generated, the more drivers reporting their freshly vacated parking spots the better. However, if no one in your area is reporting, then you'll find yourself staring at a blank map--as was the case for the San Francisco Bay Area at the time of testing. Another issue that Open Spot faces is the fact that it is a discrete application that must be launched separately whenever you enter or exit your car. We'd be more inclined to used this sort of function if it were rolled into Google's navigation app for Android.
Google Open Spot is a free download in the Android Market.