What is the Startupbus? A 3 day hackathon on wheels throttling towards SXSW at 75mph. Buses full of developers, designers, and hustlers leave from 12 cities with the goal of creating and pitching a startup upon arrival in Austin. Complete strangers thrown together to combat tight deadlines, motion-sickness, patchy wifi, and other obstacles all intent on making something great. Is it crazy? Totally. Is it awesome? Undoubtedly so.
A week ago I returned from an insanely amazing and sleep-deprived week of making (both products and friends). Together with the most kick-ass team of creative trouble-makers I could have ever wished for we created Happstr, an app that tracks and analyzes happiness.
I'm still working on a longer post about all the shenanigans and learnings from the trip, but I wanted to take a moment to encourage everyone to consider applying for the bus next year. If you want to challenge yourself, meet amazing people, form new friendships, and shift your perspective, the bus is definitely for you. Want to know more? Come to the Startupbus Demo night on April 5th (details forthcoming), where you can learn more about the Startupbus, listen to pitches, and talk to some of the folks who were on the bus this year.
I'd also like to send out special love to Eastmedia for sponsoring my trip, and Simplereach for making sure I came home safe and sound.
Oh! And be sure to check out Louisiana's bus application, which has set a new bar for 2013:
New York has about 244 neighborhoods, depending on who you ask. Some large, others small, and many nested within each other like Russian dolls. The differences between them can be bold or subtle, obvious or hidden, and not always available to the immediate senses. Bringing these differences to light, providing insight and context to location, is something NabeWise is just a little obsessed with. A few weeks ago we released Version 2 of our mobile site, combining geolocation with quantitative and qualitative data to provide profiles for neighborhoods as they are traversed. Because the new mobile experience is vastly different from its predecessor, I thought it might be interesting to capture the reasoning and process that lead to the version we have today.
The first mobile site we built was feature rich and duplicated a considerable amount of the desktop experience. We even included city maps and neighborhood overlays with the option to track your location in real-time, which was totally awesome when taking the train up to Boston and zipping through all the neighborhoods in Queens, but fairly cumbersome otherwise. In product meetings we'd discuss technical approaches to speeding up the application until one day we finally realized we didn't want a faster version of the current app, but a different app entirely - an app whose sole purpose was to answer the basic question, "Where am I?"
There are a number of different ways people navigate cities, two of the most common being destination directed (going from point a to point b) and discovery directed (wandering by whim and serendipity). When trying to reach a specific destination people generally care more about the how (how do I get there?) and the specific where, while people who are taking a more exploratory and less directed approach care more about the what and the general where (where am I and what is its story?). Google Maps does a stellar job pinpointing the specific coordinates at which you happen to be standing and what streets, stores, and intersections are nearby, but it doesn't help very much with the slightly less specific context and general where embodied by a neighborhood.
And that's what we wanted our mobile app to do – provide an answer to the question of general where, and in the process maybe even settle a few bar bets.
With a freshly defined purpose we set out to discuss details which, naturally, requires beer. We hashed through possibilities and potentials, argued about functionality and features, and threw around ideas until we settled on a core set of content. We dropped the city map and location tracking, search, and even navigation in the process. It was a gruesome battle, but in the end we were rather satisfied with our work.
Sketching on a stack of paper wireframes we explored a variety of interface ideas. The narrowed, focused set of content we had selected led us in new directions and demanded to be handled appropriately. At every step of the way the temptation to add “just one more thing” was strong, but we disciplined ourselves, asked why at every turn, and ultimately prevailed in keeping the app focused on that one question, “Where am I?” So focused in fact, that the site boasts only one button which reads, “Where am I?”
Visually the mobile site inherits from the web app, though the background is new and is actually a map of SoHo from the early 20th century. Bendy (our friendly NabeWise llama) makes an appearance on the error screen, which generally pops up if you are in a city we don’t currently cover. Neighborhood information is displayed in a vertical list eliminating the need for extra taps. While we removed any form of global, structured navigation, there are a few different ways you can navigate:
Through neighborhood containment, which is what we call our system for determining relationships between neighborhoods. If you happen to be in a neighborhood that contains or is contained by another neighborhood, we’ll show you the surrounding context and ways to view those neighborhoods.
Physically navigate to another neighborhood
It’s the second method of navigation I love about version two; you must physically move yourself in the world to navigate through the site. The idea of transportation paths and patterns as interface is intriguing, and while our site only scratches the surface, it’s a topic I’ll continue to explore.
And so we’ve launched! If you’re in any of the cities we currently cover, definitely check it out. It’s not the kind of app that will bug you 20 times a day or make you feel overwhelmed with information; rather it’s the kind of app that’s there when you need it, with enough information to help but not hinder, and let you go about your day when you are done.
Going with a web approach allowed us to explore mobile ideas available to all platforms. While native apps are in the product roadmap, we knew we wanted to build out the web side first. ↩
In New York it’s not uncommon to overhear people arguing about what neighborhood they are in, especially at bars ↩
Core content: description, photograph, reputation, top attributes, real estate values, reviews. ↩
The Project for Public Spaces defines placemaking as a formal process of improving public spaces, but I'm wondering if there isn't personal or vernacular form of placemaking that occurs as an emergent property of individual and community behaviors. My brother, with a masters in Urban Planning, says that placemaking only pertains to the process at the formal level and ceases to have meaning in informal settings. So what do we call this form of intrinsic placemaking - what is the name for the behaviors that help us understand and connect to a place?
I've been thinking about this recently because of two articles from the December 5, 2011 issue of the New Yorker. While the subject matter is dramatically different, both consider place through personal and communal lenses. You'll need a subscription to access the articles in their entirety, but the quotes convey the basic gist. I'm going to pour another beer and engage my brother in a deeper discussion. Hopefully we'll come up with something...
I gradually became aware that my interiority was inseparable from my exteriority, that the geography of my city was the geography of my soul. Physically and metaphysically, I was placed.
Because anonymity was well nigh impossible and privacy literally incomprehensible (there is no word for “privacy” in Bosnian), your fellow-Sarajevans knew you as well as you knew them. If you somehow vanished, your fellow-citizens could have reconstructed you from their collective memory and the gossip that had accrued over years. Your sense of who you were, your deepest identity, was determined by your position in a human network, whose physical corollary was the architecture of the city.
In which the author tracks his personal history from old Sarajevo, to Chicago, to new Sarajevo and begins to understand place through the process of learning a new city and remembering the old.
In each of these cases, I would argue that the street, the urban street, as public space is to be differentiated from the classic European notion of more ritualized spaces for public activity, with the piazza and the boulevard the emblematic European instances. I think of the space of “the street,” which of course includes squares and any available open space, as a rawer and less ritualized space. The Street is a space where new forms of the social and the political can be made, rather than a space for enacting ritualized routines. With some conceptual stretching, we might say that politically “street and square” are marked differently from “boulevard and piazza”: the first signals action, and the second, ritual.
Resolve to do lots of writing along the way. Much of it will be routine note-taking, but you should also write reflectively, to understand: make outlines; explain why you disagree with a source; draw diagrams to connect disparate facts; summarize sources, positions, and schools; record even random thoughts. Many researchers find it useful to keep a journal for hunches, new ideas, random thoughts, problems, and so on. You might not include much of this writing-to-discover-and-understand in your final draft. But when you write as you go, every day you encourage your own best critical thinking, understand your sources better, and, when the time comes, draft more productively.
Oulipo v.184.108.40.206 / Last updated October 18th, 2010 / WordPress
Inspired by and named after the group Oulipo, this clean, minimal, grid-based theme was created for authors who want their content to shine. Three-column simplicity with an eye for typography, Oulipo is also available on WordPress.com
Zack 990v.1.2 / Last updated May 16th, 2010 / WordPress
Based on the Boston Globe's The Big Picture, this theme puts photos and videos up front at 990 pixels wide. Zack 990 is not meant for written content alone, so if your weapon is words then you might want to check out Oulipo.