iPhone App to Push Earthquake-Themed Social Networking

Categories: Government
Update 3:39 p.m.: App maker says he has other products, too, but won't say what they are.
Yow: Let's play earthquake preparedness!!!!

San Francisco's government is creating an iPhone app patterned after FarmVille and Foursquare where players can prepare themselves for earthquakes, rather than feed imaginary chickens or collect badges.

Called SF Heroes, the app is scheduled to be released in September.

"One of the tactics we need to use is to make it fun, make it a challenge, and apply peer competitiveness to it," says Rob Dudgeon, director of the city's Emergency Services Division.

The city paid $25,000 for the app -- and that's cheap compared to all the other pointless methods the city uses to try and persuade residents to prepare for an earthquake.
"You spend tens of thousands of dollars for a four-color bus ad, and what do you get?" Dudgeon says. "Research really drove us to identify who our target audiences are, and who the trusted networks within those demographics are, and how they can act to cultivate champions."

"Cultivate champions" is apparently social-networking jargon referring to when people become fascinated with collecting the most Farmville animals, or becoming mayor of the laundromat in FourSquare.

In SF Heroes, players will earn online badges for completing disaster preparedness tasks, such as storing water or training to be part of a Neighborhood Emergency Response Team.

The app is the first and only product produced by Cosmicube, a local company founded by two recent graduates of local diploma mill Academy of Art University. This way, the city was able to get a better deal than if officials had gone with a big game developer, Dudgeon says.

Despite hours of trying, I found no evidence this was a patronage deal: Founders Ben Acevedo and Carla Riggi don't appear to be the offspring of local cops. Rather, they seem to have been two kids willing to execute Dudgeon's dream of natural-disaster-themed social networking.

"We met them through people who knew people who knew people," Dudgeon says. "We'd been bouncing around that idea for for three years. We talked to them, and went out and looked a couple of other places, and got back to them with rough ideas about what that it would take."

Dudgeon says they've produced a version that works. By the fall, people will be able to stop wasting their time with pointless iPhone games and begin playing one that may very well save their lives.

"It's something that has some value, yet has the same look as FarmVille," he says. "Here, instead of feeding chickens, you'll learn disaster preparedness."

Update: The app maker says he has other products other than the one for the city, but says he can't say what they are.

At 3 p.m., Ben Acevedo of Cosmicube sent us this e-mail:

We would like to make some corrections to your article about SF Heroes. SF Heroes is not the only product CosmiCube has produced. We are a white label developer working with many clients on productivity and gameapplications. SF Heroes uses a custom version of our REACH Platform.
My partner Carla Riggi and I are far from kids. I'm 40. I have been in mobile and game development since 2005. In my development career, I have worked with Sony Computer Entertainment of America and Warner Bros (I wrote the story and executive produced the iPhone game based on the Sherlock Holmes film.) as well as producing independent games. I founded two start ups in the last 3 years, that are still operating, Tall Chair, Inc. and CosmiCube, Inc.
Carla Riggi, our CEO, holds a degree with high honors in mathematics and philosophy. She has over ten years experience in web development, user experience design and application design. She has spent the last two years specializing in mobile, and has designed the REACH platform. CosmiCube is the second company Carla has founded.
We are excited by your interest in the project and we would be happy tod iscuss CosmiCube and the REACH platform with you to clarify the nuances and capabilities of this new communication tool for government and non-profits.


Ben Acevedo

Given that Acevdeo seemed to want to "correct" our statement that the San Francisco government app is the first and only product produced by Cosmicube, I asked Acevedo which other products, specifically, the company had made. This is what he said:

We work primarily with design, marketing and entertainment firms. In our white label role, the projects we work on are under NDA and we are unfortunately unable to disclose specific products we have worked on. This is also why you do not see products in the App Store under CosmiCube label. We have developed the REACH platform as a communication solution for non-profits, governments and education agencies using gamification and reward strategies to engage audiences that they would normally be unable to reach.

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Smarter Monkey
Smarter Monkey

So... you could've built a Facebook game in Flash or HTML5 and reached a majority of people. Instead, you built an app for a proprietary platform that reaches less than half of smartphone users, and smartphone users are less than half of mobile phone users, and not everyone has a mobile phone. $25K to reach less than 25% of SF citizens. And that's if *every* iPhone user in town uses it. Great use of our money in tough economic times.


Maybe they only want to provide safety information to people who can afford expensive toys. The more property you have, the more you stand to lose in an earthquake, right? Save the whalethy!

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