For the last 8 months, I’ve used MARTA to get to Georgia Tech. Let’s just say that it’s not the best-respected mass transit system and leave it at that. Still, I can get to work in 35 minutes and spend my time reading papers rather than fighting traffic. I don’t have to own a second car just for commuting.
But I would much rather carpool. It’s cheaper, faster, cleaner and safer. So when Georgia Tech announced their new arrangement with the ride-sharing site Zimride, I was the fourth employee to register. Carpooling is a very hard social site to get right.
Schedules. A commuting schedule is at the heart of any carpool site. If I don’t tell you when I want I a ride, how can you pick me up?
But I don’t want everybody I work with to know exactly when I arrive and leave everyday. I like to see my daughter before she goes to bed at night, and here Zimride makes me write it down. (Tenure committee—if you’re reading this—this is only an example. I never leave.)
I took my first Zimride a few days ago, and five minutes into it my driver explained how they often run late to take their kids to school in the morning. It’s not reflected on the Zimride schedule. It could be. The interface permits it. But people usually don’t want to be so literal with their schedules, especially when their colleagues can see them—something backed up by classic CSCW research.
Incentives. Let’s back up. Why should I do this at all? I don’t have a commuter car, so I stand to gain a lot from carpooling. But for somebody who could simply drive alone, why bother? My driver adds 7 minutes to their commute because I’m along for the ride. Zimride thinks it’s for the money.
When I tried to work out the money part, my driver shrugged it off. Honestly, they probably make quite a bit more money than me. Plus, it’s just plain awkward to hand over money in a situation like this. Sure, it’s great to offset your gas costs, but not at the social cost of ruining what would otherwise be seen as a good deed.
Identity. By partnering with Georgia Tech, Zimride forces you to authenticate as an employee or student at Tech. That’s a start. They also encourage you to use your Facebook identity on Zimride. I think this is a great move, and I would rather Zimride make it mandatory. If I’m going to get in your car, I should be able to see your Facebook profile. In fact, I should get to see much more of it than some random internet user. I want to learn what you care about, how snarky you seem in your posts, and whether you seem angry, right-wing, or hopelessly hippy. I’m about to put myself in a small, confined space with you: these things matter. But this isn’t Zimride’s fault. There’s no “getting to know each other” setting on Facebook.
p.s. Hat tip to Amy Bruckman for putting this topic in my head last week.