Internet for the Homeless

Again, life imitates art.

The New York Times article, with its penetrating photo, tells a story of unchecked technology.  Did New York City luminaries believe that free Internet wouldn’t quickly translate into free porn for the homeless?

In my book, ESCAPING DELETE (published 2012), I introduce Rocco’s Babysitting Services, a.k.a., RoccoLink as an absurd example of Internet excess that brought together “two growing demographics: first, working mothers needing daycare for their young children and, second, homeless people looking for self-improvement and quick cash.”

The following copyrighted material is excerpted with Jon Bellman’s permission.  Do not use, reproduce or transmit.

“RoccoLink launched its feature-packed site. Demand rolled in. RoccoLink rigorously background-screened every homeless applicant and excluded those with felony convictions. The cost for a Rocco’s babysitter was less than half the market rate. Supply was problematic. The homeless had poor Internet access so Jack struck a deal with a handful of wine, cigarette, and snack food companies to subsidize the placement of Internet terminals in homeless shelters and soup kitchens. The steel-footed, urine-proofed, and theft-hardened RoccoLink terminals displayed ads to the homeless while enabling them to secure permanent RoccoLink email addresses, a meaningful step along the path of dignity toward a physical address.

RoccoLink’s calendar program enabled the homeless to schedule their babysitting appointments. The babysitters built up reputation points over time and families had to bid to secure the services of RoccoLink Blue-Ribbon providers. Those babysitters with high reputation points and the most hours billed agreed with RoccoLink to mentor homeless ‘probies’ on their first few jobs. RoccoLink gave its providers vendor sponsored smartphones with directional locators so parents could find their children on a live map, continuously refreshed on the Internet.

By the end of its first year, RoccoLink had fifty-five employees, and a fancy Silicon Alley office complete with Ping Pong tables and Cappuccino machines. RoccoLink was heavily promoted in the media and Jack spoke with bankers about going public. Revenue was running about three hundred thousand per month, mostly in the New York, Chicago, and Miami markets when a handful of lawsuits started to roll in. They were all for petty matters like loitering with strollers for eight hours at a time in Macy’s or Barnes & Noble, and none were related to the quality of the childcare.”

 

I wrote ESCAPING DELETE…A CEO in the Black Hole to help leaders simplify Information Technology and to avoid expensive and potentially harmful failures.