App aims to make T bus rides more educational

Alight is a startup by some MIT grad students who think they have a bus-schedule app that could turn into a bus online community. Their app (currently just Android) will let you see when the next bus is coming - and then, as you ride, tell you stories about the buildings and places you pass.

Miles on the MBTA, the Cambridge kid who has been busy riding every single T subway, commuter rail and bus line (with excursions to Worcester, Providence and western Mass.) has been interning for the company and describes what you could get:

Once you're on board, the app will use your location to play "stories" all along the route. These can range from sports to history to local attractions, and you can sort out which themes you prefer to customize your experience. It makes bus rides so much more interesting, not only for tourists, but also for locals who might learn a thing or two about new neighborhoods!

The app lets users record their own stories - which will then be played to other riders. Tell ten stories, get a company water bottle.


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... about buildings and food.

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Methadone Mile

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Should produce some riveting short stories!

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I always thought

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that "Tales of the Number 1 Bus" would be a good read.

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Fascinating idea

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A few years back, while I was admiring the details of some of the Victorian era homes in Cambridge, I had (what I consider in theory) an insight. One of the reasons our "architecture" today is so lousy is that older buildings were seen on foot or from slow-speed transport (carriages, etc.) People actually had time to see and admire the details; architects and owners were rewarded for the effort they put in.

Today houses are things driven by at high speeds in technology that requires our constant attention to operate (regardless of whether we give it that attention or not). People do not get the opportunity to perceive their surroundings they're racing through, and lose a sense of appreciation for it. (In addition to all the obvious and large damage a car-obsessed society does to us, there are subtle losses as well.)

This app has the potential to restore that appreciation a bit here in the digital age -- the extremely rare instance of mobile technology resulting in our looking at the world around us more instead of less.

(For the moment leave out all the cynical thoughts about how this well-meaning app will get abused, just as all our other digital technology does nowadays.)

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Hope they're planning to review those

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I hope they're prepared for the work to review every single user-submitted story because it could quickly fill up with useless and/or offensive content and then no one would use their product in a way that advertisers would be interested in paying for.

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Someone would have to "curate" it.

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The problem the creators of social media have is a mistaken, and somewhat naive faith in the self-regulating aspect of human nature. They believe in freedom of information to a fault.

But the moment one takes a hands-off approach to "public" discourse is the moment the worst among us attempt to misuse that freedom, or even actively use it against the rest of us. (I'm sure Adam is very familiar with this dynamic). The only successful virtual hang-outs I've seen are the ones that are moderated.

We should abandon the concept that digital communications platforms need to be open by nature.

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What's the point?

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Most of us ride buses because we're commuting or we might even be going somewhere other than work but we need the bus to get to a subway line or another bus for this particular trip.

That means we're on the same bus, on the same route, like 10 times a week for commuting or the exact same local bus any time we leave the house to go somewhere if we're using it as a connector to other services.

Unless every bus line is going to have 100's of "stories" to follow, you're going to use the app a few times and discard it because it's not delivering anything new. Then even when you're on a bus line you've not used before for whatever random reason, you won't be thinking about "oh, better load up that bus story app"'re either not going to remember it or be too busy making sure you don't miss your stop since you don't usually do that route every day.

Even if the user-submitted stuff is interesting...let's say you find a particular user who told a good story, then either you have to go ride all the same buses they did and/or they don't have stories for all the different routes you use or whatever.

Plus, stories need to be relevant to the stops you use. Most bus rides aren't end-to-end. Can you just jump into the middle of a story? Will stories have start/end points and only get revealed if they match your scheduled ride? Will you just listen to stories for places you can't see/won't be going by?

I guess I'm just missing the replay value, the monetization, the point of it, really. Nifty idea, but who is going to use it and how much?

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You could say the same thing

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You could say the same thing about historical markers that describe events that took place at spots around the city. Should we stop adding these, since most people who walk by them are walking by them frequently on their way to work/school/etc and only read them the first time?

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All valid concerns. However...

By on a city as richly packed and old as Boston, it is likely that there *are* hundreds of stories, big and small, on every bus route. Hypothetically, should this app fill out with a "critical mass" of content, it would be many many trips before a rider exhausted it all. The tricky part would be gaining that critical mass before people drifted away.

Think of it as a collective art/cultural project. If enough people with a shared sense of history and culture join in, it would be a very rich experience for people who are interested in these kinds of things -- the very kinds of people who seem to gravitate towards Universal Hub, for instance. I know that I'd use the ever-lovin' heck out it, and I hate almost everything else about mobile device obsession in public. (And maybe that's the kiss of death right there ;-)

I doubt it would ever become the next Facebook (thank god), but it could be a welcome addition to our shared cultural heritage.

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If u get stuck in traffic, do

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If u get stuck in traffic, do you hear the same story over and over again?

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