ByCycle and Bikely both bring bike route mapping to the web, and not a minute too soon. Finding bike routes through cities (especially unfamiliar cities) can be a lonely, scary process of elimination. After much experimentation, the best route often ends up being a patchwork of quiet side streets, alleys, and paths that would be impossible to piece together in advance on a map. Ideally, you'd get to share ideas and information with other cyclists when you're trying to, say, get from the Mission to the Exploratorium for the first time. Yeah, straight up Van Ness is probably not the best way, even though it looks like it on the map.Online communities to the rescue, right? MySpace and Wikipedia are doing something right; they've both found ways to tap into the motivations of a particular group of people, providing forums to share information and build connections. Exactly what each has done right is anyone's guess. MySpace is ugly, confusing, often annoyingly inconsistent, and generally unusable. Wikipedia is unreliable, badly written and pretty much a total free-for-all. So the bike route mapping thing doesn't need to be perfect, it just needs to provide the right environment and functionality to do the following things:
- Easily post routes. Use the power and knowledge of the bike community to record the best routes around the city. Bikely does this, and they've built a simple, mostly straightforward process. I created a route of my Summits of San Francisco run/ride, and it pretty easy, though the are some fairly unconventional interactions. Kudos to Bikely for getting my mind going on this.
- Edit and annotate any route. Leveraging the knowledge of the group requires an approach like Wikipedia's. Each route should be editable, and annotate-able by the community. This is the only way to get discussion started.
- Emphasize tagging and categorizing routes over naming. Bikely is very free-form right now, and posting routes has quickly become a free-for-all. They recently added tagging, but it's fairly constrained to a few route attributes — recreation, commuting, urban, rural. A more Flickr-like model, where one tags can be anything related to the route (marin, tiburon, ocean, golden gate bridge, etc), gives people the ability to make their routes findable by their important characteristics. Of course, as much tagging as possible should be automated — the route length, the streets covered, the cities visited — all of this should be extractable from Google Maps, right?
- Distribute admin privileges to local experts. People have posted routes that are almost identical, named them different things, and therefore searching for routes brings up lots of repetitive junk. Here's where Wikipedia provides a good way of allowing the community to police itself. A dedicated San Francisco cyclist could ensure that classic routes are established and maintained.
- Provide inline discussion of routes. An additional problem with lots of people posting similar routes is that they're missing the opportunity to have an interesting discussion about that route. There IS knowledge out there that can be brought to the fore! Like Wikipedia, each route should be editable, and those edits of course should be revertable, and there should be a forum for discussion about the route.
- Allow people to support routes. This is the sixth item, but it's really one of the most important. People should be able to join or approve routes, like "friending" someone in MySpace. This is where MySpace comes in. By "friending" a route, so to speak, you give it your approval as safe, really, and you also begin to build your own profile …
- Provide a user profile page. It's an essential component of MySpace, Wikipedia, Flickr, del.icio.us, etc. People love themselves. They like to aggregate stuff. This site doesn't need to be MySpace, but it does need to provide the notion of a profile, where a user can share something about themselves, and view the routes they've joined or friended or whatever.