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Bikes / Key ingredients for interactive bike maps of the future

Flickr photo

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.

There must be more, right?I got to think­ing about this after read­ing these two inter­est­ing pieces on worldchanging.org: ByCy­cle — Online bike maps and Mak­ing Bicy­cle-Friend­ly Cities.