Apps for Your City

In a three-part series of posts recently, I took on the question of how new technologies could create and rebuild social capital in the U.S. One of the core ideas I tried to illustrate is that successful tools will bridge online experiences with the offline, "real" world. In the last post I argued that cities were in many ways ideal environments for these social-technology experiments, and that the potential particularly for mobile technologies to create stronger communities in urban environments is profound.

Today, I want to put a little meat on those bones of ideas. Here are three pretty cool new tools that you probably haven't heard of. In one way or another, each bridges the online with the offline, and can help bring real people together in real places.

- Second Glass is a company best known for their "wine riots"-- massive wine-tasting events that skew younger and, well, cooler than your usual wine tasting. They've developed a mobile app that will help you remember all the wines you try, which ones you liked,  which your friends liked, etc.... because, realistically, you're not going to remember. It's a pretty slick app, though it looks like it's iPhone-only at this point. Building social capital? Maybe that's a stretch, but it's an interesting case of mobile tech enhancing an offline shared experience. And it looks like there's a wine riot coming to New York in September, and DC in October, for east coasters interested in, er, putting the technology to work.

- Dropcapsule is a mobile app (also currently only on iPhone, it seems) that allows you to leave location-based notes for your friends (or yourself!) around your city. It meshes with Facebook to let you share messages with all your friends (though they also, of course, have to use the app to see the messages), or target a message at a select group or individual. I'm already imagining the messages I might leave for my friends in the neighborhood of my favorite deli ("Try the capicola!") for myself at the bus stop ("You picked up your drycleaning, didn't you?") or for my girlfriend to receive as she walks by the beer & wine shop ("I love you so much!").

- MyBlockNYC is a temporary project taking user-generated video and puts it in on the map-- literally, a map of New York City. Videos are portraits of individual blocks, and also tagged with some basic information about the film and the filmmaker. The problem with user-generated video, of course, is that it's usually terrible, and the video on this site is not really any different. But taken together, the videos paint a strikingly honest picture of the city, in all its weirdness, wackiness, good and bad.  It's a pretty cool project, and it seems like it could blossom into something more permanent, perhaps mobile based, and stretching beyond the confines of the five boroughs.

These three online tools each bridge the gap to offline life in interesting and different ways. Know of other cool ideas, apps, or companies that deserve more attention? Let me know...