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Block Rocker's carpool classifieds
Jeremy Faludi, 27 Nov 05

Ron Edwards, the creator of SustainabilityZone, recently made a new site called Block Rocker, which is basically Craigslist plus Google Maps. That by itself would be pretty handy, and yet another example of how digital is getting local, but then he made one of the ad categories Carpool/Ride-Share. There are several ride-share sites around, like eRideShare or Ride Share Online, but their interfaces suck and/or they're closed systems, so you have to commit to signing up before even seeing if there are rides near you. Block Rocker's classified-ad format makes things much more transparent. Another improvement I'd suggest to their interface, though: have the maps show the driver's whole route (like Bus Monster shows bus routes), because a prospective carpooler can be on the way without being particularly near the start or end points.

This is the kind of map-hacking that we need to see more of. We've written before about how a universal Google Maps interface for public transit should exist. The next level, of course, is making the interface fit on a PDA / web-phone screen, for access to ride info in real time. A professional implementation of this would be like
Texxi, and the Craigslist / Block Rocker version of this would be a person-to-person carpool network, where a search would turn up anyone in the network nearby (either based on GPS, or daily schedule estimates) and give contact info. You'd have to figure out for yourself whether you trust this stranger you're getting into the car with, but user-feedback systems like eBay or Amazon have could measure trustworthiness. This could also be implemented for systems like Block Rocker's ride ads, but it is less vital there because they are setting up long-term relationships, not minute-to-minute rides.

Tools like this aren't just for commuters, either. eRideShare arranges many city-to-city rides, which they point out can be both much nicer and cheaper than a Greyhound (which means far cheaper than train or plane). The same could be done with Block Rocker.

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Comments

Hey Jeremy - thanks for the mention! I like the suggestion you made about adding in routes, and its something I'll certainly consider. I've been trying to strike a careful balance with Block Rocker between having a super-simple interface, and offering the power-user features like the route mapping you described; so far, I'm just not sure where that balance point lies.

That's sort of the history of BlockRocker in a nutshell. In its original incarnation, which I never made public, it was actually closer to being a "Product Service Systems" broker - it was a complicated, interface heavy way to register items that you had to share/trade/sell and manage their availability. Initially, I had it set up for DVD movies. The point was that on our way to BlockBuster or Best Buy to get whatever movie we wanted to see, were driving past untold thousands of DVD's sitting on shelves - why not make those accessible, save the drive, and your money? So - you could join Block Rocker, put your collection on line (there was a nice Amazon mashup that pulled in data from UPC codes), and then browse, share, trade with whoever you wanted to - people on your block (hence "Block" rocker), in your city, or globally. The eventual plan was that DVD's would be on type of resource you could register; books/music/tools/cars/etc would all follow.

Of course, like so many simple ideas ("sharing DVD's with neighbors") the execution turned out to be really complicated, and the site that I ended up with, even after a number of design iterations, was too complicated; the overhead of using it would have doomed it to very niche status, which of course means its would have been dead in the water since its utility depends on having many of people signed up.

So - I tried to apply the Apple formula to BlockRocker and distill it down to its core functionality: what was the driving transaction behind such a service? Finding, selling, and trading DVD's quickly and easily. Which essentially describes the notion of classifieds, hence how BlockRocker became the classified site that it currently is.

My hope now is that suggestions like yours and Connie's (Connie was the one that suggested carpooling as a category) will help BlockRocker evolve to better fit the needs of specific user groups (like carpoolers) without compromising the overall experience and turning it into something complex and cumbersome. Craigslist is a good example of this - they've scaled the site to where it is now without losing sight of the simplicity that made it effective to begin with.

Anyway, thanks again for the mention and your input, and anyone else that reads this, please post your suggestions/critiques as well!

Best regards,
-Rod.


Posted by: Rod Edwards on 27 Nov 05

A friend of mine recently sent me an email about a practice called slugging.

http://www.slug-lines.com/

From the slug-lines site:

Slugging is a term used to describe a unique form of commuting found in the Washington, DC area sometimes referred to as "Instant Carpooling" or "Casual Carpooling". It's unique because people commuting into the city stop to pickup other passengers even though they are total strangers! However, slugging is a very organized system with its own set of rules, proper etiquette, and specific pickup and drop-off
locations. It has thousands of vehicles at its disposal, moves thousands of commuters daily, and the best part, itÂ’s FREE! Not only is it free, but it gets people to and from work faster than the typical bus, metro, or train. I think you'll find that it is the most efficient, cost-effective form of commuting in the nation.

He was interested in getting something like this going where we live. I just read about blockrocker and it looked to me like BR might be a useful way of organizing slugging. What do you think? Would the two work well together?


Posted by: Neil Bruder on 27 Nov 05

Why not just go whole hog and have people supscribe to a transport club, whereby they get a cell phone connected to a computer that knows everything, so that if they punch a button the computer figures out the right way to get them from there to there optimally, using drivers going that way, or dedcated driver-vehicles, or whatever makes sense and fits the callers specs. This way everybody is properly checked out and nobody is at risk, or delayed much. To this could be added slews of other stuff, like access to a huge fleet from limos to dump trucks, so we all can forget about the private car, almost the worst way to go there is.


Posted by: wimbi on 28 Nov 05

Neil - sorry for the delay, been busy over here. I had a good look at slug lines, and at some point I will try and execute that in BR - the mapping function lends itself to slugging somehow, I'm sure. That being said, slugging has a lot of complicated special data - best times of day, start/end points, etc, which might make it to specialized a service for BR - which I'm trying to keep "light-weight" - an implementation challenge to be met!

Wimbi - you've described the nirvana state I think we'd all like to get too one day! As Jeremy pointed out, Texxi seems to be leading the way:

http://www.greencarcongress.com/2005/07/texting_sms_for.html

Anyhow, thanks for all of your comments.

FYI - I added a third mashup element to BR - it now pulls in Amazon product data and images for spefic product categories - web services are wonderful.


Posted by: Rod Edwards on 1 Dec 05



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