googleplex – Bike Intelligencer http://bikeintelligencer.com All bike, all the time Wed, 11 Nov 2015 18:11:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Google’s ‘Bike There’: The dark side http://bikeintelligencer.com/2010/03/googles-bike-there-the-dark-side/ http://bikeintelligencer.com/2010/03/googles-bike-there-the-dark-side/#comments Thu, 11 Mar 2010 08:39:44 +0000 http://bikeintelligencer.com/?p=2482 After a day of hyperbole and reflection, we're still impressed with Google's 'Bike There.' But we also feel compelled to do some reality-checking...

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Google’s new “Bike There” feature, which entered beta (test) phase yesterday, must have already created an entire new ozone layer in the blogosphere. By mid-day yesterday, it was a lead story on radio and TV news, it was ballooning blog comment queues and it had been tweeted nearly into oblivion, becoming a top trending topic in bike-populous zones.

While we love the fact Google has added the feature, and generally — despite numerous flaws we found in just a cursory test — think it’s a valuable addition to Google’s route-finding family, we nevertheless have to step back from the crescendo of hype and ask ourselves if Bike There is really worth all the clamor.

With a day of judicious perspective under our belt, we found ourselves mulling over the Dark Side of Bike There.

The first thought that occurred to us, surfing around the service was: They spent how long on this? (One report had five months; the concept has been out there for several years and gained more than 50,000 signatures on an online petition.) Google is to be congratulated for the breadth and depth of its undertaking here, but Google Maps already had a pretty exhaustive database for Bike There to work off of. It can’t have been that difficult to get a bunch of bike maps and start plugging in the new fields.

What do they do over at the Googleplex all day long? Maybe the company should be renamed Doodle. We’ve always thought btw that Googleplex sounded pretty much like a techie term for preschool — maybe the thing Googlies send their kids to. There’s really something precious about the whole thing. Google is a successful company, no denying it. But if Bike There represents anything close to a serious commitment of resources, Google is coasting.

Or if they’re not coasting, they really don’t know what they’re doing.

As feedback from the bloggers and tweeters and in-yo-facebookers came cascading in through the day, a plethora of ineptitude began to accumulate. Bikes routed onto bridges with no sidewalks. Bikes routed onto busy death traps. Bikes routed up stairways. Commuter cyclists routed onto gravel roads.

I found a few myself in just a few minutes of cruising Bike There, although mine were more like quibbles over route preferences. Still, it occurred to me as I checked out some route recommendations over popular bike routes: Does anybody from the Bike There team actually ride?

According to a Seattle Times article, Bike There’s core team is based in Google’s Fremont district offices. So you might assume that they know Seattle. But Seattle-area commenters found numerous flaws in Bike There’s routing.

The most astounding one may have been putting a cyclist onto the West Seattle Bridge. You cannot be a bike rider in Seattle and be sentient at the same time and not know the beleaguered history of West Seattle bicycle commuting. Thankfully, the bottleneck was finally fixed after years of nightmarish routing. For Bike There not to know this, recognize the fix, and try to put cyclists on the decidedly bike-impossible West Seattle Bridge raises an obvious question: Didn’t anyone from the team test these routes?

Now I’m sure that the algorithms behind Bike There are fairly robust and accurate and get the job done 80 or 90 percent of the time. But no bot is a substitute for real-life experience and good old plain common sense. And that’s what you feel is lacking from Bike There.

To be fair, or at least less unfair, because we’re not quite done yet, Google is asking for user feedback on this beta. It’s counting on experienced cyclists to amend, correct, revise and otherwise improve upon Bike There’s technology.

Google acts like we should feel privileged to be so indentured. But here’s our take: First, why didn’t it ask experienced cyclists for input before it put out this thing to the general public? We’re not that hard to find — Seattle’s Cascade Bicycle Club has some 11,000 members.

Second, there’s something truly presumptuous about one of the world’s richest companies asking the public to do its work for it. Yes, Bike There is offered as a “free” service. And it is, as long as Google doesn’t ask for anything back. But any member of the public who provides valuable feedback that winds up being incorporated into Bike There isn’t really getting Bike There for free. He or she is working for Google … for free.

Google’s share price jumped more than $16 yesterday, presumably based in part on the Bike There announcement. Shareholders must get a warm and fuzzy feeling knowing that a huge new pool of non-paid workers has been added to the Google data-producing family.

We stand by our initial assessment that Bike There does a lot of good for urban cycling and is a definite keeper. But we’d like to see a lot more smarts in the system. From the looks of it, this is going to be a pretty dang long beta.

Other commentaries

New York Times

Biking Bis

Cyclelicious

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