Beating the traffic woes: Trapster vs. Waze

I drive a lot. Since mid-2009 I’ve put 45,000 on my 2010 Prius. Almost every mile of that has been with my trusty iPhone, usually on a holder on the dashboard or in one of my drink holders.

Lately I’ve been testing out two apps (Waze and Trapster) to help make driving more fun, and I invited execs from both companies to my house to go on a drive and learn about the philosophies behind both companies.

Trapster started out stronger, with its “share where the cops are” approach. It quickly got to 14 million downloads, although I doubt many of them are active anymore, based on my experiences driving around San Francisco.

Waze didn’t focus on just cops, but on the overall driving experience. You could report road closures, or obstacles in the road (I reported a ladder in the middle of the freeway once) to other drivers.

Since Waze started in Israel, and because Google had better maps and driving directions in the United States, its growth had been slower, which meant its utility wasn’t nearly as good.

But that was a year ago. Today Waze is blazing a new path with a very nice and newly-designed app. Every day, at least in San Francisco, I see more and more drivers using it, which means traffic reports are getting more and more accurate and more and more granular. Now it’s not uncommon for me to be right behind another Waze user, even on mountain roads. Unlike on Trapster, where you have to guess where drivers are, you can see exactly where they are on Waze (don’t worry, you can be totally anonymous, although I always am totally public so you’ll see me driving around).

On Trapster, drivers leave “blue lines” where they’ve been (they last a couple of hours) so you can at least tell where drivers have been. Tonight we drive home at 11 p.m. from Milpitas and I was using both services. On Waze I saw lots of other drivers, but on Trapster I saw no blue lines. The crowd has moved, it seems, and that makes Waze more useful.

Trapster does have one new feature that’s very cool. Trapster was recently sold to Navtek, the mapping folks, and they’ve mapped the speed limits on many of the region’s roads. So, as you’re driving along you’ll know the speed limit. Handy, because in many areas the speed limit signs are infrequent (it warns you if you are exceeding the limits, too, which is nice).

If you watch the video I did with Trapster, you’ll see that the company has started moving away from just being about spotting cops and traffic cameras, and is now also about sharing traffic info, like blocked lanes, and such. But here Waze is innovating faster (Trapster really hasn’t added many new features lately, while Waze has gotten a total overhaul) and has more users, so that’s the one I find myself reaching for the most.

What about you? Are you using any traffic apps on your phone? If so, which one?

Here’s videos of both teams:

Trapster:

Waze:

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A note to Dave Winer and Fred Wilson

Hi Dave and Fred,

Dave, I’ve been away from your RSS for a while now. Heck, I’ve been away from blogging. But I’ve been thinking about what you told me when I visited you in New York. You weren’t going to read me on Google+, Twitter, or Facebook. Why? You like reading RSS (you should, you helped bring it to the world).

Fred, you told me that I was nuts to give up my blog (I told you I had left it for the better engagement of Google+). You told me that it is dangerous to not own a place with your own name on it, on servers that you — at least in theory — control. Didn’t think it was gonna work out for me to post my content solely on Facebook or Google+ (both of which now have blog-like features and feeds).

I pushed back, noting that the ability to gather engagement is way off the charts on Google+ and, even, on the revamped Facebook (about a month ago Facebook added a new feature, called subscribe, so people can subscribe to my feed there without being my friend and they also gave us the ability to post long posts).

I also told you about Flipboard and how it’s changed my reading behavior. No longer do I use RSS-only news readers. Today I can see Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, RSS, Facebook and much more aggregated together in Flipboard.

Now Dave doesn’t like the paginated world of Flipboard. I imagine he won’t like Google’s Propeller (a tablet-based competitor to Flipboard), that’s rumored to be coming this week, or whatever Yahoo is doing, or whatever Feedly, AOL, Pulse, Flud, CNN, is doing.

I still remember the day when Dave first showed me how he likes reading blogs. He likes a simple feed where new stuff shows up at the top of the page, or, even better, in his outliner (for those who don’t know, Dave invented a lot of outlining technology that most of the industry has long forgotten about, but Dave still likes reading, and blogging, in an outliner where most of us just read Facebook or Twitter).

But something happened over the past few weeks that’s gotten me reenergized about RSS. What is it?

Well, Google, in its new “focus on Google+” strategy, has announced that it’s dropping some features from Google Reader. Mostly the social stuff.

Now THAT is interesting! One reason why I left Google Reader (and RSS) is because Twitter and Facebook just became dominant in the world of news. For instance, look at my Twitter news feed of news articles from major news brands around the world. Stick that into Flipboard and you have a world-class newspaper that NOTHING can match.

This change in Google Reader is going to be very interesting to watch. Yes, I see that lots of people are up in arms about this change (funny enough, I read that on your own blog at Scripting.com).

Lately Dave you have come into a number of different conversations. The famous Silicon Valley investor, John Doerr, yesterday, told me he found your writings to be as interesting, and smart, as ever. He’s not the only one who’s said that lately.

So why this note. I’ve decided to live most of my life “inside Mark Zuckerberg’s and Larry Page’s trunk.” It’s a damn nice trunk, too.

Acutally, I see it more of a dark force. It sucks all data toward it. Both Facebook and Google are like black holes.

I’ve decided to live on the dark side of the force, inside the black hole.

Why? For a few reasons:

1. I don’t have a business model to protect. I just need to be where Rackspace’s customers, and potential customers, are. Increasingly that’s inside Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ (yesterday at Y Combinator’s Startup School person after person came up to me and talked about a post or two I’ve made on Google+ or Facebook).

2. I don’t care whether my words, or videos, survive into history. Heck, the first few years of my blog, from 2000 to about 2003 aren’t available anywhere anymore and that hasn’t really caused me too much pain.

3. Everyone knows multiple places to find me, so I don’t care that one company could delete me anymore, either. Remember when Facebook deleted me for about a day? Well, now, if they tried that it would just help out Google+ (and vice versa). And if both of those got together, I still have my blog. Heck, even if the entire social media system decided to try to block my words I’d find a way to communicate. Now my rolodex is good enough that I’d be able to get airtime even on old-school pro media.

But I keep coming back to what the value of RSS is. Dave, you nailed it when you said it travels through firewalls (in other words, those put up by governments, like in Iran and China).

And, there ARE some things I want you both to read, even if you decide never ever to set foot into the black holes of Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

So, I’m going to start participating in the RSS world again. Maybe just as letters to you two. See, one reason that my blog has gone dormant is I just was having more fun inside the dark force of publishing. RSS isn’t as addictive, nor as social, nor as conversational anymore and that’s where I’ve chosen to live my life.

This is why the new Google Reader strategy intriques me. Sometimes I want to write a long ass piece where I don’t need to interact so much. Heck, I might even turn off comments here. Might even become, hate to say it, anti-social here, since there are so many better places to have a quick, real-time, low-friction, conversation amongst friends (both Google+ and Facebook are serving that for me, far more than here).

To Fred Wilson: I’d love to unpack where you think the investment opportunities are in the new modern publishing world.

My own feeling? Developers really like the new Facebook “verbs” platform, but they see the value flowing only one way: toward Facebook. They are waiting for Mark Zuckerberg to make his verbs platform two way: their data goes into Facebook and Facebook writes checks, or pushes advertising back out through those verb interfaces.

If that happens I can see lots of startups getting on Facebook’s bandwagon and it might even justify some of the valuations we’re seeing for companies like Color, Path, etc.

I’d also love to hear if you think there’ll be an investment opportunity around companies that focus on RSS again (or, better yet, decentralized identity technologies). I’m starting to think that there might be and if I’m thinking that, it’d be interesting to hear if you are thinking the same thing.

I’m thinking that way because I’m meeting more and more people who don’t have a social graph, don’t care to have one, and, even, are actively not participating in Facebook or Google+ because they are scared of what those companies are doing with the data. They have no such fears around RSS and that’s why getting rid of the social features over on Google Reader might actually be a good thing!

Anyway, thanks for listening. This was mostly a way to get my blog’s pipes unclogged, so sorry for running on a bit.

Your friend, Robert.

Eighteen minutes with the new Lytro camera and its founder

Reprinted from my post on Google+.

I get a pretty good demo of the camera, then Ren Ng comes over (he’s the genius who developed this technology while at Stanford — he’s been working on this for eight years) and we have a chat about the technology.

If you are interested in this camera, you’ll want to check this out.

You can order yours at http://lytro.com

This is the camera that lets you refocus after you shoot images.

It also does 3D (they had a separate display that I didn’t shoot where I viewed those 3D images and they are pretty damn cool) — you will be able to decide after you shoot whether to display images in 2D or 3D, which is totally cool.

Hope you enjoy this look at this remarkable technology.