There’s no question that social media has brought us a lot closer by allowing anyone to communicate in virtual settings with people all over the world. But social media tools are also helping us to hack the way we interact with the real world. From figuring out the best route to get from point A to point B to helping people avoid speeding tickets, from simplifying public transportation to arranging carpools, social media tools are making it easier for people to get around the places they live.
We’ve collected a list of ten great social media tools to help you better navigate your city and connect with your neighbors. If you know of any others, please mention them in the comments.
1. Google Maps
Google Maps is the crème de la crème of online mapping applications, with satellite and terrain maps, embedded Wikipedia information, local business info, and turn-by-turn directions for car, walking, and public transit. Google doesn’t set the gold standard for mapping by being the prettiest mapping application (Microsoft’s mapping app is arguably easier on the eyes), but rather because of the pace at which the company innovates.
Their “Street View” technology, for example, offers impressive and highly useful 360 degree panoramic street-level photographs for an unmatched and growing number of cities around the world. And their live and predictive traffic maps can show users traffic congestion now or in the future (based on historical data) for at least 30 different cities. These types of innovative features are why Google Maps is one of the best tools any city navigator can have in his or her arsenal.
Like Google’s traffic maps, Waze collects real-time information from users using their mobile phone applications. If you’re stuck in traffic, the Waze app will send data about where you are and how fast you’re going to others in your area so they can reroute to a road with less traffic congestion. Where Waze one-ups Google is in the ability for people to report on the causes of traffic (such as an accident, downed tree, or construction) or to report speed traps.
If you’re just interested in avoiding speed traps, check out Trapster, a crowdsourced speed trap sharing system that alerts you to speed traps and red light cameras.
Wayfaring is a great Google Maps mashup that helps users to easily create their own information maps. Whether mapping the route of your morning jog, keeping track of where you went on your road trip, or mapping out the best places for pizza in Chicago, Wayfaring lets users share their experiences with one another. It’s a great way to connect with other local travelers or find cool places or routes when in a new city.
4. Walk Score
Because not all transportation is done on wheels, Walk Score will tell you the most walkable places to live. What makes an area walkable? Public spaces, nearby amenities, a pedestrian centric design (with parking lots behind businesses and storefronts close to the sidewalk), slow traffic, count-down crosswalk timers, and accessibility features (like wheelchair ramps), among other things.
Enter your address into Walk Score to see how walkable your neighborhood is, and get details on nearby restaurants, grocery stores, libraries, public parks, schools, and other amenities. Any score above 80 means you live in an area where a car isn’t necessary to get by.
For those of you who get around on two wheels, MapMyRide is for you. The site lets you plot your bike riding routes using Google Maps, and view other routes that fellow bikers have entered. You can view routes on a regular map, or add in elevation data to see how much uphill and downhill riding you’ll have to contend with. Where available, you can also preview what that route will look like at bike level by using Google’s Street View.
MapMyRide also offers a calculator to estimate how many calories your bike ride will burn, and premium memberships with workout tracking and printable maps. Also check out Bikely, a similar site where riders share their biking routes.
Of course, sometimes the weather makes riding your bike or walking a less than desirable prospect — public transportation to the rescue! HopStop makes riding the subway or the bus in New York, New Jersey, Long Island, Boston Chicago, San Francisco, Washington DC, Philadelphia, London, and Paris a breeze. Unless you’re very familiar with a public transportation system, getting around in a new city can be tough. HopStop takes out the guesswork by telling you which trains and buses to take and how to get from station to station.
I use it to map out subway routes whenever I am traveling in a city where I don’t know the system very well. Also check out Google Transit, which gives transportation directions for more than 425 cities around the world.
If you do plan to take a car, why not share a ride with someone else? Carpooling is better for the environment, it saves money, and it can save time if it makes you eligible for a high speed HOV lane during your commute. Zimride connects carpoolers together for one-time rides, regular commutes, and cab shares in the US and Canada. Because of Zimride’s clever integration with Facebook Connect, you can query your Facebook friends or your work or school network for rides to help ensure that you’re not getting into the car with an axe murderer (and increase the likelihood of finding someone in your area heading in the same direction as you). Also check out Avego.
If you neither own a car nor want to get into one with a complete stranger, then RideCharge might be for you. RideCharge lets you book taxis in 27 metro areas via your mobile device so that you never need to be caught out in the rain trying to hail a cab. The site is especially helpful for corporate travelers or those who need to be in a specific place at a specific time. If you pre-book your taxi, sedan, or shuttle, you can be sure you’ll get to your appointment on time.
For those who need to travel by car, GasBuddy is a must-visit site. Relying on crowd submitted information, GasBuddy delivers up-to-date gas prices for cities across the US and Canada, so that you can always find the lowest gas prices in your area. Once you locate the cheapest gas station, use GasEdge to calculate if the extra driving for an out-of-the-way bargain will actually be worth it, or if going to your regular, but more expensive, station will actually save you money in the end.
FuelFrog lets you log mileage between fill ups, how much gas cost, and how many gallons or liters you added to your tank simply by tweeting your daily fuel data. The site then creates handy graphs that can be helpful in charting your fuel usage, identifying trends in your local gas prices, and learning how your car uses fuel (which could help alert you to issues like the need for a tune-up or that your tires are low on air). The information could also help you adjust your transportation habits so that you burn less fuel and save money.
Also check out MyMileMarker, which lets you enter fuel data via its web site, right from the pump through a special mobile site, or on Twitter.
Once you’ve figured out how to navigate around your city using social media tools, you need somewhere to go. The first place to turn to find your city’s hotspots should be Yelp, a crowd-powered ratings and reviews site that offers listings for thousands of restaurants and other local businesses in cities across the US and the UK.