Friday, July 27, 2007

walk score

I am lucky to live in a place with a relatively high Walk Score. Chuck and Jason have both recently discussed Walk Score, with their homes having scores of 25 and 28, respectively (not walkable). Chuck thinks his score is too high and Jason thinks his is too low. My place has a Walk Score of 52 (some walkable locations) and I think it's slightly low. Both Chuck and Jason pointed out the issues with how Walk Score works (go read their posts), and the Walk Score folks themselves have both how it works and how it doesn't work pages on their site which echo some of the same issues Chuck and Jason mention.

I think Walk Score is an interesting tool and could be enhanced by turning it into a community site in which things like Chuck's comment that "If I wanted to go to a business across the street, I'd feel like I was taking my life in my hands," could be addressed. That's the sort of information not reflected in a simple "there is a business across the street +1" data point. There is a big data problem, recognized by the creators (and anyone who uses it), that their results are only as good as the data they have—in this case, Google Maps data...and that data typically excludes a lot of things on campuses, like libraries, coffeeshops, theatres, etc. That would be some of the first stuff I'd tackle if opened up for community involvement. Next would be weeding out the businesses that aren't there anymore, then adding in the ones that are. In fact, I'd be very surprised if the limited release of this tool is not simply the first step toward a community-enhanced site that would pair very well with something like Zillow or Yelp (very different audiences, but both could use the score for appropriate purposes).

But it is true: in Pullman, I walk a lot because I can. The English Dept and the Library are half a mile away, Starbucks is something like 0.3 mile away and the grocery store is just a little ways past that. My gym is 0.8 mile away. There are plenty of restaurants within, say, a 0.75 mile radius of my house: two pizza places, a McDonald's, a Jack in the Box, two or three Chinese places and a Mexican restaurant. "Downtown" is about a mile and half away—I could certainly walk there if I were so moved, and who's to say I won't be? I have to work on switching my brain to think like a person with the free time to walk if I want; I have to learn that it's ok to take the extra 15 minutes on both ends of my alloted workout time so I can walk to and from the place instead of driving.

Anyway, Walk Score—interesting concept, room for expansion, many ways to leverage the content. Good luck with that!

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