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JewishJournal.com

June 19, 2013

Practical app-lications

http://www.jewishjournal.com/science_and_technology/article/practical_app_lications_for_dog_owners_and_los_angeles_drives

Apps entertain, make life easier, provide a way for us to stay up to date on current events and much more. Some are vital, others less so, but the best are the ones that strike that balance between simplicity and innovation and leave us asking, “How did I ever get by without this?”

Given that there have always been Jews on the forefront of intellectual activity (just look at the list of Jewish Nobel Prize winners), it wasn’t too difficult to find apps for smartphones and tablets that were created by Jews. Here are a pair with local ties. 

Yelp for Dog People

Jon Kolker, a University of Southern California (USC) graduate and co-creator of Where My Dogs At (wheremydogsat.com), describes his app simply as “a community for dog owners.”

Whether you’re looking for the perfect park for you and your canine companion or a brewery where your pooch can chill with you on the patio, this free app aims to be your reference guide. And if everything goes right, you might meet some like-minded folks along the way.

Where My Dogs At provides listings for nearby dog parks, pet stores, veterinarians and local dog-friendly businesses — including restaurants, coffee shops and hotels. But more than that, the app offers a Facebook-like social platform for dog owners and -lovers in which users create personal profiles, post photos and instant message each other.

It’s like “Yelp for dog lovers,” Kolker said.

Animal lingo abounds. Instead of “checking in” at locations, users “mark their territory.” And rather than receiving reviews based on a star-rating system, businesses and sites receive “paws.” Where My Dogs At users rated Melrose Avenue’s Urth Caffé an average five-out-of-five paws, for example, because dogs are allowed on the eatery’s patio.

The app has approximately 15,000 users, according to Kolker, and currently is in its beta version. A full version is set to be released this fall.

The app’s origin dates back a few years. Curious about places in the city that he and Eddie, his black cocker spaniel, could enjoy together, Kolker, 28, began researching. After he created a list of places, his friend Gareth Wilson suggested that they input the data into an app, which launched last December. 

“We’ve since expanded and have data for places across the country at this point,” said Kolker, CEO of BetterPet Inc. Wilson is president and creative director.

Kolker and Wilson, both of whom attend Sinai Temple, among other synagogues, attended USC’s Annenberg Program on Online Communities, where they received $10,000 to begin work on the app. The Baltimore natives graduated from the USC graduate program in 2012.

Because a significant part of the app is the experience of shmoozing, its creators insist it’s for everyone, not just pet owners.

“Not all of our users are dog owners; there are a lot of people who just love animals,” Kolker said. “They’re welcome as well, of course.”

— Ryan Torok, Staff Writer

Parking, the Final Frontier

After several hours of driving, sitting and patiently listening to your GPS, you’ve finally arrived at your desired location. 

But where to park?

That’s where ParkMe comes in.

Founded by Sam Friedman and Alex Israel, both graduates of Crossroads School in Santa Monica, ParkMe (parkme.com) is a free app that helps drivers find the nearest and least expensive parking spot.  

“We help our users find the closest, cheapest parking available by displaying real-time data, including rates, hours of operation, payment types and more,” said Israel of West Los Angeles.

ParkMe displays its information on a GPS map and enables users to control whether they want a cheaper or closer parking spot. Additional features included a rate calculator, in-app route guidance and a timer.

According to Friedman, a Santa Monica native, parking causes 30 to 50 percent of traffic congestion in L.A.’s urban centers. ParkMe’s aim is to reduce this congestion.

When a driver takes a ticket at a parking garage or pays a city meter with a credit card (in participating cities), that information is sent directly to ParkMe’s database, which consists of more than 25,000 worldwide locations in more than 500 cities — Los Angeles among them — 19 countries and three continents.

In order to increase accuracy, ParkMe also deploys a field team of researchers to scour U.S. cities for updates or changes regarding rates, hours of operation and total capacity.  

On top of the existing app, the company licenses its database to third-party GPS devices and has plans to work directly with car manufacturers, Friedman said.

“Parking is actually the last piece, as we call it, to the navigation puzzle,” he said. 

And, for Israel, “[ParkMe] solves the everyday hassle and frustration of parking.”

Only, as the app warns you in its terms of service, be sure you’re pulled over when you use it.

— Jay Firestone, Web and Multimedia Editor

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