Today I released a Chrome extension called Bikeable that uses public data for bike share programs in cities like New York (Citi Bike), San Francisco (Bay Area Bike Share), and Chicago (Divvy Bikes) along with your location to show you the number of bikes available at the nearest bike share station next to your browser’s address bar.
Click that button and you see that station on a map along with walking directions and estimated time to get there.
It also allows you to quickly search for stations near other places in your city. It’s a relatively simple extension, and you’ll find plenty of tools to show bike station data on a map, but as an enthusiastic user of Citi Bike in NYC, I’ve found that most of the time, all I really want to know is whether my nearest station has any bikes available. (Particularly when I’m at home or work.) This extension provides that information at a glance.
Apart from the basic functionality, I teamed up with Ellen to put some love into the design.
If you participate in any bike share program in one of the supported cities (currently those include NYC, SF, Chicago, Columbus, OH, Aspen, CO, and Chattanooga, TN), I think you’ll find it really useful. (In fact, if you’re visiting any of these cities, the extension automatically switches to the appropriate data for that city.)
So, on to the experiment:
I’m charging $0.99 for it. Will anyone buy it?
I’ve developed and released a fair amount of free (as in beer) and Free (as in speech) software and web applications over the years, and that software has been used by hundreds of thousands of people. At most I’ve asked for donations (amazingly, a small number of amazing people actually donate a couple bucks on occasion). But as I’d like to be able to make some money developing and releasing software, I’ve decided to test out this grand capitalist experiment by charging money for things I make.
In all the years I worked at Lifehacker, I was always a little averse to software that cost money. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t cover an app with a price tag, but if given the option, I’d tend to give preference to the free (and ideally open source) alternative.
I’ve changed as I’ve aged. Primarily, I’ve grown more sensitive to how a piece of software makes me feel. Things built with care — that are designed well — make me feel good when I’m using them. More and more, that’s software I’m willing to pay money for. (There’s a whole other issue concerning the broken ecosystem of consumer tech in general, in which everyone’s doing cheap R&D for huge coorporations hoping to hit acquisition pay dirt, meanwhile setting expectations that all software should be free. That’s another post.)
So yes, this small, simple Bikeable Chrome extension costs about the same as a piece of junk you’d pick up at a 99-cent store without giving it a second thought. I’m pretty interested to see how that turns out.
If you use a bike share program in any of the supported cities, I encourage you to download it. If you live in a city with a bike share program that isn’t supported but you’re interested, let me know.