Wednesday, August 31, 2005


Carpooling is based on the insight that we have all those cars zooming around out there going everywhere 24/7, most with just one occupant. The unused capacity is mind-boggling. What to do? Carpooling is starting to go high tech, facilitated by use of computers, GPS devices, cellphones and the internet. Both free and commercial applications have popped up in Europe and the West Coast of the US. Newly jacked-up gas prices and the possibilitiy of supply line problems following Katrina may make it more popular in a lot of communities soon.

The high tech solution is a classic exchange. A database is accessed on the web by a limited membership group. Participants post and confirm "lift offers" and "lift requests", then users just confirm their trades and meet up on the parking lot. Basic services could be offered on a daily basis. It could get more formal of course. The addition of cellphones and GPS devices could aid in scheduling lifts ever closer to real-time. Setting one of these up would be a great service for IT and web development shops to offer their companies. The software essentials are close at hand, and we could look like the heroes we really are.

Some links:

From Wikipedia:

* As most cars are designed for 5 people but only occupied by 1, car pooling has great potential improve the capacity of congested traffic corridors in cities, with minimal investment in infrastructure.

* Higher occupancy rates also can reduce consumption of oil thereby reducing corresponding political and economic risks, reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, reduce common pollution, and save considerable expenses from gasoline, oil, tires, auto depreciation, tolls, parking, and in some cases insurance.

* Carpools may provide social connections in an increasingly disconnected society


* Drivers carry the additional burden of potential legal action from passengers in case of an accident.

* Car pooling combines the disadvantages of public transport (lack of privacy, fixed timetables) with the disadvantages of the automobile (low safety, high fuel consumption, high cost of labour). Well designed, dedicated BRT systems have proven a faster and cheaper alternative to car pooling in big cities.

Others offer a tool for carpooling using GPS and a commercial DB:

Free carpool tools and DB:

...and for group set up:

Here's a commercial service that uses cellphone technology to perform real-time, "dynamic" pooling:

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Podcasts, Two

Yesterday may have been historic in the annals of communications. Under court order, the city of New York opened part of its archive of records from Sept. 11, 2001. The New York Times today released a huge cache of of oral histories, dispatchers' tapes and phone logs in PDF and MP3 formats..."so vast that they took up 23 compact discs.", according to the Times.

We don't know to what extent this particular release will be accessed by the public, but clearly, it transcends the volume and complexity of what is even possible in a real-time stream of broadcast radio and TV. How will people use this stuff?

Like the whole podcasting phenomenon, this kind of publishing promises to further break down the singularity of the broadcast model. It points away from the realm of fleeting events toward something enduring and the searchable. More and more, our role as communicators may shift from preparing a single strand of narrative to presenting content as database.

If it re-defines the author, it may redefine "audience" to something like a "quirience" (to coin a word); the active set of users who build personal meaning out of a rich medium of information. In this new realm, both the content preparers and the quirience will need to live by the same set of rules; a mutually understood grammar of presentation, access and re-construction. The closest approximation I can think of right now is the set of rules that underlie the online gaming experience.

Unlike a movie one sits and watches for two hours flat, a contemporary online or multimedia game can deliver dozens of hours of "play time". Gaming has radically altered our notions of media use, presentation time and attention span. What game designers and their users have come to share is a whole set of uber-rules about game use.

Maybe the would-be datacasters, like today's Times', and their quirience, will need to arrive at the same set of rules. Maybe we already have them. What somebody needs to do is figure out what they are and explicate them.