SWAN of the Week, No 116

Happy Friday!

I was in NYC this week and had the opportunity to spend a little time at the World Trade Center memorial on 9-11, including getting to see the Tribute in Light firsthand. It was devastating. And beautiful. And important… My family toured The National September 11 Memorial & Museum this summer, and I highly recommend putting it on your bucket list.

Meanwhile, back in Minneapolis, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about commuting and social data.

Do you use Google Maps or Waze on a regular basis? Do you listen to their recommendations on the best traffic route? If you drive a car regularly, I bet you do. I do. But the real-time traffic data and fastest route recommendations can wreak havoc on residential neighborhoods.

This week LA Mag has a fantastic read on the repercussions of map apps fueled by real-time consumer data, “Waze Hijacked L.A. in the Name of Convenience. Can Anyone Put the Genie Back in the Bottle?”

Key quote: “When you give people selfish solutions in competitive, noncooperative games, everyone loses…By promoting the myth that their apps would get you there faster, the tech firms were effectively and collectively creating a perfect traffic storm for everyone…”

That traffic storm is why I stopped using Waze on my daily commute. I would find myself speeding around Cedar Lake residential streets with 25 other cars — all of us trying to save three minutes on a normal I-394 back up. Meanwhile, little kids are just trying to play or walk to the school bus on their street while cars scream past their houses. It’s dangerous, and I’m not helping that chaos when I’m trying to skirt a few minutes.

With that said, we have the technology to know how many vehicles are on the road, where they’re going and the most efficient route (aka fastest). And we can do better. There are public transit solutions, of course. But in many communities the cost to retrofit communities around busses and trains is extremely high. Please don’t reply to this and tell me people should forgo their cars. I get it. But it’s not realistic in the short-term.

And while I’m armchair quarterbacking transit policy here, I’ve always thought Waze could add a second tier paid model where they charge extra for select routes. Don’t give everyone the fastest shortcut, just those who pay extra for it. Maybe even funnel a percent of that revenue back to the local government or homeowners associations to compensate. That’s a free idea, Waze. Let me know how it goes. 

Another idea: I’d love traffic apps to “reconcile” their faster recommendation, like racing your ghost silhouette from a previous lap in Mario Kart Time Trials. My map app should be able to tell me if that was really faster to swing off the interstate and cut through neighborhoods. Sometimes putting on a podcast and sitting in interstate traffic is a better choice.

In non-traffic news, this week the chief digital officer for Ralph Lauren told WWD that more than half of the audience on TikTok can’t be reached on other social media platforms. What?!? Insane. 

I’m not sure where she got that data, but it makes a compelling case to start experimenting beyond Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Snap. TikTok has been coming up a lot in client conversations lately. It feels so much like the early days of the social media revolution. Plus, it’s bringing us Long Boi Furbs videos! Gotta love the weird wide web.

See you on the internet!