Consider this: social media tools are making it easier for people to get around the places they live. Mashable Josh followed that assertion with “a list of ten great social media tools to help you better navigate your city.” I marked Josh’s post, thinking that I might have cause and time to go back and actually read it.
Then a real live navigation-related problem sent me back to the post and to some of the tools it lists. This Sunday should see the second open house (the first one went well, thankyouverymuch) for our condo. Said condo is about a hundred yards from the route of the 2009 Roslindale Parade. The two events are as close in terms of time as they are in terms of space, in that both are scheduled for Sunday afternoon.
This presents several real-life problems. To make them concrete, let’s imagine that one of the people who would attend the open house is called Robin (a name that could indicate either a female or a male, and one with connotations of nesting).
Problem (0) is the basic navigation problem: how to get to the condo. That’s too easy to qualify as smart navigation, but I list it as the baseline navigation problem. It’s the nail for which the standard hammer used to be MapQuest. Google Maps has, I think, taken over that position; anyway, it is the first tool on Josh’s list of ten.
Problem (1) gets us into smart navigation territory. Robin, on the way to the condo for the open house, finds that some of the roads on the suggested route are closed. A smart navigation tool would tell Robin about a route available at the time – in real time, if you will. Google Maps addresses problem (1), as does Waze, the second tool on the list.
Problem (2) involves smarter navigation. Robin knows ahead of time that certain roads will be closed due to the parade, and would like to be able to print the map ahead of time. Perhaps Robin suspects that real real-time navigation is a bad idea, since it distracts attention from driving.
Perhaps Robin wants a map of the parade route. All right, perhaps I do. The parade’s web site doesn’t provide one. It provides a text description of the route. “Washington St. at Adams Park in Roslindale Village, to South St., to Belgrade Avenue, to West Roxbury Parkway, to Gottwald Rotary, to Centre St., to South St., and ending at Fallon Field.”
Is there a tool that takes text directions as input and gives a route map and directions as output? I’m not aware of one. I tried to use Google Maps to draw the route along a street map, but it kept on taking shortcuts, or going 20 miles north to a different Gottwald Rotary, or…
Then I went to the third tool on Josh’s list. He describes Wayfaring as “a great Google Maps mashup that helps users to easily create their own information maps.” I have to describe it as a service that gave me a “404 – page not found” error during signup, and then could not find a location called “boston massachusetts.”
At that point I gave up on this particular attempt to use these “smarter navigation tools.” My frustration didn’t just come from the web tools. It also came from my overlapping attempts to find out from the police the times at which the parade roads would be closed and reopened. I was transferred from the local station, to media relations, to field services, to special events (I think I have those names right) before I had the sense to give up.
I do have a couple of positive notes on which to end. First, I did get an answer to my street closing times question. I used the contact form on the Roslindale Parade website. I got a prompt response from Tom Donahue, chair of the parade committee, by good old-fashioned email. Tom expects Belgrade Avenue to be closed from about noon to about 3:30pm, by the way. The other good news is that the open house is going ahead (starting at 11:30 instead of noon).