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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, June 2, 2006

Folks find cheapest gas with their cell

By Erika D. Smith
Indianapolis Star

There's the hard way: driving around town, wasting gas, looking for the lowest fuel prices.

And there's the easy way: using technology to find the station with the cheapest gas, then driving there directly.

Easy. That's Proxito's pitch.

The Indianapolis company just launched a free service that can send a list of the cheapest gas stations in a given neighborhood to motorists' cell phones.

The text messaging service, called Proxito Prices, is one of many that have cropped up in recent weeks as gasoline prices have blown up.

There's FuelGo.

There's FuelMeUp.

And there probably are more under the radar, all tailored to the sticker-shocked driver with a cell phone.

Gas-comparison Web sites meant for trolling on a computer, not a phone are on fire, too. There's GasBuddy.com, GasPrice Watch.com, www.fuelgaugere port.com and plenty more popping up all the time.

But Brian Luerssen, co-founder and president of Proxito, says cell phone services are far more practical.

"I don't think about buying gas when I'm sitting in my office. I think about it when I'm sitting in my car," he says. "That's what it's about getting people when they're out and about."

In the weeks since Proxito's launch in April, the company has received more than 5,000 inquiries. Most were from people wanting to know about gas. But Proxito also offers prices on pizza, drinks and hotel rooms plus information on concerts, art openings and garage sales, and 411-style lookups for people and places.

All of this is free well, until your cell-phone carrier adds up how many text messages you sent and received for the month.

Proxito gets its money from targeted advertisements at the bottom of each text message it sends. But that's the extent of what users will see. No text messages from third-party advertisers, Luerssen promises.

There's no catch to Proxito. But figuring out how to use it might seem like one.

To get what you want say the cheapest gas in the area you must type a formula of letters, symbols and numbers, and send all that to Proxito's number. You might want to know the ZIP code for where you are, too, to get a more accurate response.

"For people who regularly send text messages, it's not that bad," Luerssen says.

Half of the 200 million Americans who have cell phones say they use text messaging, says Joe Laszlo, an analyst for market research firm Jupiter Research.

"The good thing about text messaging is it's familiar," he says. "The bad thing is it requires a lot of work for the end user. You might not know what ZIP code you're in."

Rival services, such as FuelGo, require you to know a ZIP code, too. But those services are nationwide. Proxito covers neighborhoods in Indiana only.

That's why Luerssen is convinced he can get local gas stations to start uploading their prices to Proxito directly.

Mark Goodin had the same thing in mind when he launched IndyGas.com in 2000. The gas-comparison Web site, perhaps one of the first in the country, obtained prices by calling gas stations, then later by recruiting users to keep watch.

After a while, gas stations stopped talking to IndyGas.com, he says.

"I felt like they were threatened by what we're doing," says Goodin, CEO of the Indianapolis-based Web development and consultancy Computer Integrity.

IndyGas.com no longer exists.

Proxito, for its part, obtains gas prices from public databases. Employees double-check those prices throughout the day by looking online.

Proxito also has the system Proxito Points, which allows users to submit prices and earn prizes. User reporting is the most common model for gas-comparison services.

Stan Muller thinks Proxito is pretty good.

The Indianapolis man drives his Volkswagen Jetta all over central Indiana for his job.

He never did much comparison-shopping before a friend told him about Proxito. Now, he uses it four or five times a week.

"The thing's kind of addictive," Muller says.