I'm really happy to hear Google launched their support of bikes in their Maps app today. There was talk about how this was in development way back when they launched walking directions and subway map details, and I imagine there had to be a lot of work to bring safer bike lane/street information into a mapping app in a way that can't really be automated. A full city list is at the tail end of this Bike Hugger post.
Anil likes to say that when you're a web developer and you're considering adding features to not merely think about the technical aspects, but to think more about the cultural aspects of your decisions. I have high hopes this is potentially a huge cultural change for Americans used to driving 1-3 miles to run small errands around town. Knowing that you could ride a bike safely over a short distance in about the same time it takes to drive and park could get a lot of people exercising more, burning less foreign oil in their gas tanks, and do good for the environment. I can't wait to see this feature spread to more cities.
Today I realized that I’m part of the “old guard” of blogging because I remember a time when blogging was so new that very few sites had comments (it seems like MetaFilter was one of the first few?) and after a few years when they started to become commonplace, people were generally decent to each other because it was very literally turning a blog into a face-to-face conversation.
But I think the root of the problem (described in various media outlets over the past year or so) of snarky, or mean-spirited, or generally unhelpful comments becoming the norm has to do with the distance we’ve achieved from those original link-and-essay heavy blogs.
I have a feeling that if you’ve only seen blogs in the past five years (which is probably 95+% of people reading blogs today) you consider comments to be de rigueur and they are entirely divorced from the original concept of a conversation between the reader and the author of the original post. It’s not an intimate conversation, it’s just another content management feature available to you on the web.
This has a de-humanizing effect that I’m seeing play out more and more often in the weirdest places. People will post about their idle curiosities on their personal blog (“Why does x happen when I do y?“) and instead of seeing friendly answers I would expect many years ago, I’ll often see someone early on read into the question and assume all sorts of accusations (“well, maybe it’s because you are a, b, and c, and everyone knows it!“) and watch most followup comments start from there and go into darker directions.
It’s tough because I love blogs and I love comments in blogs, but I’m starting to think there’s this “new generation” that has grown up online only knowing blogs as having snarky comment areas and never realizing it used to be a personal, intimate space where you’d never say anything in a comment that you wouldn’t say to a friend’s face. Also, know that I mean “new generation” in a way where age of person in it is irrelevant. You could be 50 years old and started reading blogs last summer and I’d put you in that group.
Of course, I could just be talking out of my ass, old people tend to do that…
In the course of two posts, Anil completely nails the problem of gender (and other) biases in the web industry. When I think back to the most interesting talks over the past 3-4 years, it was always from someone outside the norm, something that could bring a fresh perspective instead of the same tired “here’s another CSS trick you might not know!” presentation. It was often a woman (like Linda Stone, danah boyd, Caterina Fake, and Amy Jo Kim, all of whom I’ve seen give kickass presentations before) but always about something new.
But to be clear, it’s not just a gender issue — gender is just one part of it. It’s about expanding your vision, hearing from voices you haven’t before, and learning something new. That’s not just happy hippie rainbow talk either, it makes perfect business sense to go after the market you don’t have, not merely the one you already got because the people you don’t know how to reach are often orders of magnitude larger than your current audience. I’m reminded of the other day a teen emailed me saying that MetaFilter didn’t fully function on Opera Mini, which was their only interface to the web. I never even thought about teens or phone browsers when I designed it, and I know I’m missing out on a lot of potential contributors because of it.
When I think back to the biggest breakthrough talks of the past few years, stuff like Guy Kawasaki’s talking to teens always went over huge. Blogging While Black opens some eyes and ears to something you’ve never known about. danah boyd’s regular talks on teens, community, and identity are loaded with new findings. Every time I’ve witnessed one of these talks, I’ve learned something new and most everyone in the crowd was blown away by perspectives they hadn’t even thought of before.
After seven years of regularly attending technology conferences, last year I reached the point of burnout and only went to two (Etech and Webvisions). This year I’ll again be attending just a couple events but this time with an eye towards diversity in topics. Things like last year’s IDEA conference give me hope (something I missed and wished I attended but thankfully they podcast the talks). A place where artists, librarians, anthropologists, park rangers, programmers, and sci-fi writers gather to discuss their experiences and the world going forward is going to offer a lot more new information to me than the run-of-the-mill tech gathering.