Thoughts on CAT & Google Transit

I became a resident of the city in November 2010 (yes, I just celebrated my 28th birthday and 2nd Burgday, I suppose). In my short time here, I’ve learned that, despite the city’s very well-documented troubles, there is quite a bit around to be thankful for. This includes the city’s wide-reaching transit system, CAT.

I’ve used CAT a number of times — when my car was being fixed, or when heading downtown, for example — and, aside from late buses, my experiences have been good. That said, “good” doesn’t become “great” by resting on its laurels. There are ways the system could be improved to entice new riders and make life easier for those who already use it. In the case of this one, there isn’t really a purchase necessary, other than the price of someone’s time to make it happen.

Google Transit

I’ve harped on this quite a bit. CAT needs to get its routes into Google Transit. Through the miracle that is Gmail search, I was able to track down an email I sent to CAT back in February 2011 in which I suggested the agency look into Google’s free transit mapping solution. The response I received back then from a Mr. Tom Collins was, “Currently, there are no plans to add our routes to Google Transit…..” Just for kicks, I tried to get transit directions between two locations in the city last night, to no avail. Almost two years later, it looks like nothing has changed in terms of CAT’s plans.

To be fair, putting together the data feed necessary for CAT’s routes to show up in Google Transit would likely require a significant time investment. This is because CAT currently operates its routes on “timepoints”; major stops are the only ones that have an arrival/departure time listed, though there are many stops in between these timepoints. To put together a Google Transit feed that provided real value to CAT riders, CAT would have to enter every single bus stop in the city — not just timepoints — as well as which buses went by those stops, and at what times.

If done correctly, a rider could enter two city addresses into Google Transit — let’s say, my old apartment to the Colonial Park Mall — and be told that a bus arrives at the stop at 3rd & Graham at 1:08 PM, and stops near 3rd & Forster around 1:18 PM. You can then hop off of that bus and (if you’re lucky), catch the bus coming north on 3rd on its way to Colonial Park. Pulling off such a trip now requires that you know where the non-timepoint bus stops are, as well as which buses travel on the routes you need, and when they arrive at the stops. For most people, this means experimentation (hope you have lots of quarters) and a willingness to stare long and hard at PDF documents.

By the way: if you would prefer to just go to the Transfer Center and wait for the Colonial Park bus, your arrival time for the mall jumps from 1:30 PM to 2:15 PM. Get ready to play lots of Angry Birds while you wait.

I happen to think that CAT would be a more viable option for many if they had all of this information in front of them and easy accessible. For those simply looking at CAT’s overly simplified timepoint schedules, a trip like the one above might look like a multi-hour ordeal when it really doesn’t have to be.

Anyway, just thoughts.

(and wow, I posted something.)

Coming up soon

I’ve been pretty quiet over here — in fact, my last post was in July — but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy.

A little over a year ago, I determined that I was going to phase out 20five, my freelance gig. In June of this year, I (very quietly) did that. After a little bit of debate, I settled on a name for a new venture that tied more closely to communications: Convoh. The goal here, however, is not only to offer the services I used to, but to experiment with different ideas, methods, and potential products; to be more “lab” than “agency.”

In addition to Convoh, but along the same lines of experimentation, I’m going to add a few web properties to the fold as time goes on. One of those, Geartap, I hope to launch before the end of the month. Another, which is already somewhat established, will come as soon as I’m comfortable owning up to it. ;) Others will come later, and all will serve as from-scratch case studies on what out-of-the-box actions do and don’t work when launching and maintaining media properties and social media outposts. Translation: a way for me to test new ideas without screwing up work I’m getting paid for.

Speaking of… it was suggested today that the community in the Harrisburg area doesn’t like to share with each other. I’m always willing to help friends if I can, and to clarify: if I offer my help on something, I’m not expecting to charge you! It’s a personal favor. That is how I roll. Some people seem to have a misunderstanding with that. If you think I can help you out, don’t hesitate to shoot me an email — shawn at convoh dot com, or call 717-884-9763. Seriously.

Have a great Friday and an even better weekend, folks.

@shawn

Crowdsourced, instantaneous news

An eyebrow-raising tweet came through my stream today–one that I can certainly get on board with.

AnneDGallaher: Consider using a hashtag in tweets when we see news happening–advice from @harrisburgsmc #HbgSMC

First, a little back-story.

I occasionally brainstorm new social products from time to time. Abuzz is one that actually made it out of my brain and turned into something real. Most don’t. The particular problem I wanted to tackle was news. More specifically, how to make it faster, more widely distributed and relevant to those in a certain area.

About a week ago, I registered the @Hashburg name on Twitter and started toying around with some ideas. I set the account up so that a few hashtags (#news, #sports, #hbg and #hbgtweetup) would be caught in the filter and automatically retweeted from the account if the user in question was within 25km (around 15.5mi) of Harrisburg.

With apologies to @roxburynews, @todaysthedayhbg and countless others using the #hbg hashtag, my little Frankenstein news experiment went a bit awry and retweeted each tweet about five or ten times. If you didn’t notice, thank God. I deleted most of the tweets and took the account private so that the tweets wouldn’t interfere in anyone else’s streams while I tweaked it. But I still see potential in the idea as a way to quickly spread important news. A few other hashtags come to mind: #traffic (for relaying information about accidents), #weather (conditions and temperature where you are), #amber (to spread word about an Amber Alert), and so on.

It is by no means competition to the more established news outlets. The character length prevents that. But as a quick way to share newsworthy items, especially when coming from a non-news source, I think it’s the best way to spread a message.

iSupportHarrisburg, Part 2

I started the last post about iSupportHarrisburg by saying “This is a trip.”

This is, too.

I received an email earlier tonight from Rob Lyons, the man behind the curtain at iSupportHarrisburg.com. Five minutes after getting that email, I got two phone calls from two numbers I didn’t recognize: one from Florida and another from PA. Mere minutes after those calls, someone started a GChat session with me through the contact page on my 20five site.

As it turns out, all of these pings were from Rob. He wasn’t happy about this post. And I’m thrilled that he chose to ping me via chat, because now you get to read it.

Guest: Shawn are you there ?
me: Hi this is Shawn

Guest: Mr Farner, I am inquiring about the info that you had posted about IsupportHarrisburg.com. Tho I appreciate your opinion about the site and the humor it can do much damage to what we are working really hard to create. In November your right there wasn’t much of anything accomplished but since then things are looking up. Can I ask that you please remove the post. We have partnered with Pa food bank and the Luekemia & Lymphoma society.Over 60 local businesses are apart of this and we do see a big future. Honestly I do agree with some of what you said but its a begining that is showing major promise.

Guest: Also I am local , I took over this in Oct

me: Honestly, taking down the post isn’t an option. It goes against everything I stand for, really. As far as your partnerships, how are you pulling that off? If you’re striking deals with companies and don’t have the traffic to make it worth their while, you’re being dishonest.

Guest: I or nobody affiliated with Isupportharrisburg.com has been dishonest. We tell every business thus far that we are new,there is very little traffic at this point but as we grow marketing strategies will be implemented.

me: are you charging?

Guest: Of course , how else would a small business grow ? Responsible business owners wouldn’t pay if they didn’t see a vision wouldn’t you agree ? If not what are you trying to say ?

me: You aren’t giving them anything to pay for. I could walk down the street and you would be incredibly lucky if I found someone who knew about the site

Guest: I can see you are good at what you do.If you have any suggestions I am open for ideas.

me: You shouldn’t be charging local businesses anything until you have the traffic to justify the charge

Guest: That is your opinion Mr Farner , not fact. Fact is that local business owners are paying a nominal fee for the hopes that this does grow.When it does they still pay the rate they do now because they helped in the growing process. I need to create revenue to hire people like you to put out positive blogs about what we are doing in the future along with marketing the site in other ways than the web.

me: You dump your own money in, you take out a loan or you find investors. You don’t use your early customers to fund your company when you aren’t giving them something in return. I am willing to bet that they’re paying you with the impression that your site has traffic, not that “it might be successful someday”

Guest: I did not say that we have no traffic. I have and still am puting my $$ into this.The money that they are paying is to grow the concept. I tried to get ahold of you to get the facts straight.I am local just like you.This is new in this area and we are growing. Have a good night.

Guest has left.

Hit the tweetup tomorrow

If you’re in the Harrisburg area and you’re on Twitter, you should definitely think about going to the Tweetup tomorrow.

Where? Appalachian Brewing Company. When? 7pm.

It’s a bit funny that I’m writing about this, since I’m probably not going to make it myself, but if you haven’t been to one or you just didn’t know about it before, here are a few reasons for you:

  • The people are awesome
  • There’s beer
  • Great food
  • Lots of diverse topics of discussion

The last one especially. You could be talking about Harrisburg politics one minute, then suddenly, you’re on to knitting. I don’t knit myself but, if I did, I’d be right at home.

You’ll also experience some tech talk, from time to time. Most of the people at the Tweetup are tech savvy. They’re on Twitter, after all. You’ll probably find them on a load of other social networks, too.

I guess you could say that, at times, it’s kind of like another Social Media Club, except the Tweetup crowd cared about that kind of thing longer than six months ago.

This is the part where I embed a map to Appalachian Brewing Company so you don’t get lost. Remember, tomorrow, 7pm. Good day.


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iSupportHarrisburg… from where?

This is a trip.

You need to look at this site that is launching in the Harrisburg area called iSupportHarrisburg (though, if you have epilepsy, you might not want to click the link).

First off, I’m sure you noticed that everything seems to be blinking and/or moving. Add that to the red, white and blue and, well… I love my country, and I’m certainly not a design guru, but someone who is probably had a small panic attack on their first visit to iSupportHarrisburg.

And whatever, that’s cool. Design isn’t where I’m going with this.

So you look to the content. Oh wait–there isn’t any. They launched this site without any content. They have a lot of different categories set up and it reminds me a little bit of PennLive. Except without all the content you go to PennLive to read.

Okay, so… ugly as sin and no content. But that’s still not where I’m going.

Scroll down to the very bottom of the page and you’ll find this:

Copyright © 2008 – 2010 iSupportHarrisburg.com, All Rights Reserved.

So wait. This site has been around since 2008? And they still haven’t done anything with it? No. Actually, WHOIS records show that the domain was created on August 28 of this year. 2010. So the 2008 part is a bunch of crap.

So they lied about when they started. Not important in the grand scheme. What I want to know is this: is this “local” site at least based locally?

At the very bottom of the page, you’re finally clued in on who is behind this glorious venture: SupportCityUSA.com, based out of Cape Coral, Florida.

Apparently, their business model is this–launch news/job/classified sites everywhere and pay people on commission to cut deals with local businesses in the area. Except they still haven’t found someone to tackle Harrisburg. Why? I’m going to buzz in and say because the deal sucks.

I see a few local businesses have ads on there already and I’m hoping to God they didn’t pay for them. If you have a small business and you’re in the Harrisburg area, do not pay to advertise on or make any deals with this site. It’s doomed to fail and you will have wasted your money.

Also, have a nice weekend.

The next project

While I often find myself with plenty to do, I occasionally get the itch to have another project going on the side. When I’m burned out from the day job or am suffering some kind of creative block, I like to work on my side project to clear my mind and re-energize.

Unfortunately, up until a few weeks ago, I didn’t have a side project. Then something hit me.

I won’t go into too much detail, but I’ll give you a few hints. It’ll be web-based, community-focused (Harrisburg, PA area, not nationwide) and will be more or less an experimental venture. I’m hoping to sneak up on one particular, slow-to-adapt sleeping giant. ;)

If you’re interested in being a part of this, feel free to shoot me an email. I don’t quite have everything all figured out yet–maybe that’s where you come in.

If you can’t tip, don’t go out

The Central PA Twitterverse is abuzz about two Spice employees who were fired after being interviewed for a Patriot-News article.  Both employees (a male waiter and a female bartender) allowed their real names to be used for the article (written by Daniel Victor) and were far from customer-centric with their feelings as it relates to tipping.  Here are two gems from the article:

“If you can’t afford to come out, then don’t come out.” -Molly Turner

“You have to pretty much be the best server ever and make them feel like crap for leaving you anything less than you deserve.” -John Burkholder

Now, as poorly worded as these statements were, they still have what my English professor would call the R.O.T. – the ring of truth.  People are more squeezed financially than they used to be and are cutting costs wherever they can.  However, some of those same people don’t have their priorities in order.  This is my belief but I’m sure many agree:

If you have money to go out, you have money to tip.

If not, movie rentals are cheap and so is microwave popcorn.  Parks are free.  So are libraries.  There are plenty of activities that are cheap and tip-free.  If 15-20% of your bill is going to break the bank, you might want to consider other forms of entertainment.

Harrisburg blogging is taking off

A few days ago I wrote a post about why I’d rather be here than in Silicon Valley.  While people there are more apt to become early adopters, Central Pennsylvania’s rate of adoption for new technology is much slower.  This basically makes those of us blogging, tweeting and FriendFeeding here the Robert Scobles, Louis Grays blogHarrisburgand Darren Rowses of the area.

Pretty cool if you ask me.

Now we’ve taken another step forward.  blogHarrisburg has been online previously, but today received a sweet new redesign that takes it to a whole new level.  What is blogHarrisburg?  Basically, it’s a web site that aggregates all the posts made about the area by local bloggers and places them conveniently onto one site.  This will do worlds to promote blogging in the area and will put much deserved eyeballs on some of the great work that local bloggers are doing.

Speaking of local bloggers and Twitterers, you can meet some of them Thursday (5/22) at the blogHarrisburg/Twitter meetup!  It’ll be going down at Appalachian Brewing Company on Cameron Street in Harrisburg from 6-9 PM.  I usually play volleyball during that time, but I’m going to try to make it anyway.

Tomorrow I’ll be looking at a promising Central PA web site that hopes to be your one stop for event information – Spotobe.