Face(book)ing your level of creepiness

Social media is a weird and bountiful collection of amazing, cool, average, mediocre and creepy moments – both online and off.

I have a friend on Facebook™ who is in the same line of work – we’ve meet, but we aren’t friends per se. You know what I mean, we all have people like that online. Hell, as a comedian I have people connected to me that I’ve never meet. That’s the life of being social online.

There is nothing about this person that is bad in any way. He is good at what he does – and I respect him on a number of levels. He routinely posts pictures of himself in and out of the limelight. Again nothing new in this world of selfiedom. Here’s where it starts to get creepy – or at least awkward. Many of these pictures contain his wife.

I’ve never meet her. I’m sure she is a great person. I’m not trying to say it in that sarcastic way – really! I’m sure she’s wonderful. But I’m going to repeat – I’ve never meet her.

Here’s the issue.

I routinely pass by her on on my way from the gym to the office. How do I know that it is her? Trust me – I’ve seen enough photos to know – it’s her. And each time I’m tempted to say hey – how’s this and that. But I restrain myself – because even if I was able to explain myself: Yeah, I sort of know your husband – and I’m familiar with your life because of Facebook – so therefore…

where are you going? why you running? wait up!

See – creepy! I can’t wait to meet her for real – then I will gladly engage in a conversation that doesn’t start with – This is going to sound weird, but …

What’s your best creep moment?

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Fresh brewed social

A curious thing has happened to the coffee shop – whether it be Starbucks, Tim Hortons (if american insert Dunkin Donuts) or a local place like Planet Coffee in Ottawa.

The shift in social has been amazing, on a couple of levels. The fact that some of these places (like Starbucks) that have their own apps and/or are piggybacking on outside technology (like passbook from Apple) is astounding. On top of the fact that they offer free wi-fi. Free, of course, being relative to the fact that you tend to be making a purchase. But those are the shifts in offerings that coffee shops have to present to play level with others’ offering the same product (whom are offering free wi-fi as well).

This presents coffee shops with the other social change – the systematic overall haul of what it means to be social in a coffee shop.

At one point in time they were the location people gravitated to be social – as in having a face-to-face conversation. More and more people are forgoing the arduous task of verbally communicating and letting their fingers converse with the fingers of others. Soon maybe the apps will even allow us to order our drinks before we arrive – again saving us from certain eye contact.

Social media, as I and myriad others have spouted about, is a lot of good, interesting things. But it can’t replace real conversation. Because real conversations are where we see and feel the words – which give the message it’s context. Because without context, is communicating social at all?

Re-imaging the TTC: Part 3

This 5-part series is about how I would correct/fix various design issues within the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). This is not about how I would change bus routes, or how one mode is better or worse than another mode (i.e., LRT vs. Subway). This is about how I believe the TTC (and other transit authorities) can improve the experience of engaging and interacting with it’s ridership (actual and potential). Here is part three.

Subway Stations (part a)

Currently there are 69 subway stations within the TTC system. And each has at least one entrance into the station – giving access to all vehicles within the structure. There are some stations that have no other modes other than subway – like Chester. One station entry point is always attended by a collector. There are various design configurations depending on volume and layout.

Two and separated – Yonge/Bloor has two collector booths that face each other, with a bank of exit turnstiles between them. There are also two large alternate entrances (the gates that can be swung open for people with disabilities, large suitcases, and they can also be used as an overflow entrance manned by an employee during peak times).

Two and together – the College station (in case you still need the Carlton Car) sees the two collectors in the same booth, back-to-back. This design has the exit turnstiles and alternate entrance on either side.

In above versions there is the allowance for two collectors, although that usually only happens during peak times.

Single – Stations like Castle Frank find the collector booth against one side wall, with the exit turnstiles and alternate entrance between the booth and the opposite wall.

Unmanned – There are two variations for this; 1, a former collector booth, like at the Yonge entrance at Yonge-Bloor has the booth part but is ONLY accessible by token or metropass, or 2, like the bank of token/metropass turnstiles at the St. Andrew entrance (although they reside in the same area as a collector booth, they are really a set of entrances on their own).

(photo by Michael Peake/©Toronto Sun)

Information Overload/Underload

Each of these entrances presents their own problems from flow and spatial design considerations, I will be talking about the visual, information aspects about the entrances – granted the flow and spatial aspects might come into play.

Firstly the collector is a limited description of the job, they are in fact: Collector, Security Guard, Information Kiosk (both TTC and the local area), Metropass/Token sales agent, Emergency Notification (if something happens in the station), Remote (when you happen to be at an unmanned entrance, and you press the ‘talk to someone’ button), etc. So for each of these tasks the booth is both a plus and a minus.

Given that a large part of the collectors job is not just to monitor the collection of the fare – they are engaged in conversations with the public (riders and potential riders). To that end having the entrance turnstile right at the place where said conversations are happening is myopic. All the while you have a line-up of people wanting to buy their monthly metropasses. It’s also the place of contact for any surface route connections that require entrance with a transfer (like Lansdowne). A minor solution would be to move the turnstile forward a metre or so – allowing flow for those that have tokens or metropasses or transfers. Thereby facilitating the conversations that might need to take place at the window wicket.

More than talking

Beyond the conversation, another reason that the passage way to the main turnstile might get blocked is because of the plethora of information signage on the booth windows. There are at minimum seven–ten of these ranging from fare notices to restricted items indications. All of these with different colour systems, fonts, sizes of fonts, etc. It’s a graphic salad of the worst kind. It’s bad not only because of the visual smorgasbord but due to the fact that it impares the safety vision of the collector. A better solution would be to have an information board – that is accessible for all, and does not impede traffic or safety.

There is somewhat a system in place that shows a local map – this would a great place to start. Combining all of the station/TTC/vicinity information into one super didactic area. It should also connect up with the colouring system that the TTC has in place for each subway line. And without beating a dead horse, this information can be presented on a digital sign board – allowing for updates and modifications easily. A digital sign I would keep at the booth entrance is anything related to fare and train information. Right now at myriad stations there is a hand-written sign indicating the last train leaving that station, on that day. Hand written signs in any situation reek of a unprepared, unprofessional social encounter – not reflective of employees as much as management.

Assuming that everyone that rides the TTC is a familiar with the workings of the TTC is a stretch. Even for seasoned riders, heading to a new destination brings it’s own set of challenges. Keeping that in mind allows design decisions to be made that benefit all parties involved – riders and employees. Ultimately the purpose of any set of signage or related wayfinding systems is to help with flow and passage – not hinder.

What other ways could you suggest to improve the entrance experience at a transit station?

Dad, welcome to social media

I’ve mentioned my Dad a few times in these musings. And I’ll be doing that again today.

My dad just opened a Twitter account. Not because he felt he had something to share, it was because of one person – Sarah Brightman. As soon as my Dad found out she was on Twitter (or at least someone in her entourage sending on Sarah’s behalf) he was hooked up.

Now what?

That was the question he asked me after creating the account. Now what? Well it really depends on what part of the social media equation you are on, want to be on, or care to be on. If you’re a bit older and news and information has been a controlled, one-way conversation – you’ll most likely follow more than be followed. If you believe that you’ll create content and add to the communications dialogue – you’ll have more followers.

I think that as much as there is the ability to create content, add to the conversation or maybe be an iReporter – we still need to have receptors, people that are the consumers of this content.

Which side of the conversation are you on?

The silence of connecting

For the past week or so I’ve been staying with my Brother while he recovers from back surgery. He happens to live in Burlington (50km west of Toronto), and I happen to work at Yonge and Bloor (heart of Toronto).

Taking the GO Train into work I’ve noticed an interesting shift. Where people before on a train would either keep to themselves (sleeping, reading a book) or engage in conversation in your grouping (seats facing together creating a foursome – yeah, I said it!). Those conversations could be about anything – there was even a daytime soap television show based on that whole idea – Train 48 (which was based on an Australian show Going Home).

How a few years has changed the conversation. There are still those that keep to themselves – Kindles, Books, iPads, RIM Playbook (that guy sits alone), etc. and the sometimes still popular sleeping. But there are others still that are keeping to themselves and deep in conversation – through Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, SMS and a myriad other social media connection tools. As well, even sometimes when engaged in what seems like a passive endeavour like reading a newspaper on an iPad – it still becomes part of a conversation with add-ons – giving anyone the ability to share an experience with like-minded people.

So, it’s as if conversations are not happening – they’re just happening in a different way. Do you find your conversations (both verbal and text) are enhanced or limited by current technology offerings.