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.)

The Future of SEO?

I actually tweeted this article out into the WebDrafter Twitter stream yesterday (which I’d love for you to follow if you’re not already!), but I wanted to take a closer look at it and examine some of the possibilities.

An Australian site called StartupSmart published an article yesterday titled “5 SEO Trends to Lookout For in 2012.” Being someone who works at the intersection of social media and SEO on a daily basis, it was of particular interest to me. I want to go through each bullet point from the original article and give you my take on whether or not I think that particular change will manifest itself this year.

“Social media will be an even bigger factor in Google’s algorithm.”
The safest bet of the bunch. Social is already a bigger signal in search engine results than some would care to admit. Google’s search engine is only getting smarter as time goes on, and Google is starting to realize that, as good as some of their algorithms are, humans do a better job filtering the junk and curating the best content. 2012 will be a big year for social in search, no doubt.

“The search results page will continue to feature less organic rankings and more paid.”
Google puts a lot of focus on usability and simplicity. While the search engine results pages have gotten a lot more busy since Google first started out, I can’t see them reaching a point where paid search ads outnumber organic search results. In fact, I believe some of the newer formats Google is trying out are meant to increase conversions and revenue without having to put more ads on a page.

“Paid search will become more important in supporting SEO efforts.”
With the rise of “not provided” in Google Analytics, good keyword data is going to be a bit more difficult to come by — unless you’re also running AdWords campaigns. This one is a definite.

“Spammy SEO practices will get targeted even harder.”
What SEO is becoming is what it should have been all along — a process to make a site the most quality result for a keyword search, not through spun articles or conveniently-phrased keywords, but through genuine usefulness, with legitimate link and word-of-mouth endorsements through other websites and social media. The march toward this eventual goal is only going to continue, and Google will leave a lot of bloodied, down-ranked sites in its wake.

“SEO will become even more competitive than ever.”
This is going to be the year SEO and SEM as they are known today start to die. Search engine optimization companies that are skilled at developing great content  and online relationships on behalf of their clients will thrive. The multitude of companies who add more useless content to the Web will see what little success they’ve had start to vanish.

Thoughts? Shoot me a tweet (@shawn).

If only Google Voice had MMS…

There is one thing and one thing only that is keeping me from totally moving over to Google Voice.

The lack of MMS support.

I have this fancy iPhone thingamabob and I had to wait a long time to send and receive multimedia messages on it.  Do you really think I’m going to give that up now?

I’d be okay with giving everyone a new phone number.  I’d even be okay with having to use GV Mobile to place all my calls.  But I *will not* let picture and video messages intended for me be sent off into some black hole in space (seriously, what does Google do with those?).  The fact that it doesn’t even send you a warning is unforgivable.  I mean, even AT&T did that.  If you’re doing something worse than AT&T, you’re in a bad place.

Anyone agree?

Some quick thoughts on Google Reader

I have to say that I’m really liking the new features Google has tossed into Reader.  It’s always been a great RSS reader in my mind but the social features have added a whole new dimension.  On top of sharing (which we’ve had for awhile), we can now follow other users, like items and comment in a way similar to how we’ve done on the lifestream service I will not mention.  It seems like Google is trying to fill a void that hasn’t quite opened yet but could sometime in the future.  Kudos to them.

A few gripes though.  Why is the following/commenting system so borked?  If someone is following me, I want them to be able to comment on my stuff.  End of story.  If we’re following each other then I’d really expect them to be able to comment on my stuff.  But they can’t.  I have to put them into a group in order for them to comment and vice versa.  That just seems odd to me.

Another thing – refresh rate.  Can we get a faster refresh time?  Or how about real-time?  I’ve been spoiled, Google.  I’m sorry.

One more thing – notifications.  I would love to be notified somehow if someone has commented or liked an item I’ve shared.  There’s no easy way to figure this out at the moment – you just scroll, click and pray.  FriendFeed (oops, I mentioned them) puts your liked/commented-on items at the top of your feed.  Facebook pops up a little red alert at the bottom of the screen when someone interacts with your content.  Can we have this Google?  Please?

My wish list aside, I’m liking the attention that Reader is getting lately and plan to start spending a lot more time in it.  I don’t see it as just a feed reader anymore but as social discovery tool.  This was a major draw for FriendFeed and I’m glad that another option is shaping up.

Want to follow me in Google Reader?  Please do.  http://www.google.com/reader/shared/shawnfarner