Management & Operations

Straining at the byte

Posted on May 29, 2007 by Steve Hirano, Editor/Associate Publisher

Ubiquitous. Being everywhere at the same time. That’s how I feel when I run up against my magazine deadline. And my e-mail newsletter deadline. And my staff evaluation deadline. And my budget deadline. And, well, you get the picture.

More and more, we’re expected to do more — with less. And it’s going to get worse. At a recent presentation by a digital information expert, 40 editors at Bobit Business Media, the parent of METRO Magazine, were told that they needed to expand their skill sets or risk becoming obsolete.

Ubiquity, we were told, is upon us. The world is wired and wireless. The man on the street who’s hurrying to his next meeting has no time to gather and read printed matter, not when news, video, RSS feeds and podcasts can be delivered right to his smartphone. Editors who can’t keep up with this technologically enabled man will be left behind, like a classmate who had to repeat second grade, twice.

We were told that the digital uprising in information delivery has provided us with great opportunities to connect and communicate with our readers. Ink on paper? Yeah, don’t worry, it’s always going to be around. But ubiquity requires, no, demands, that we also learn to blog, to Myspace, to podcast, to moderate Web seminars and create videos. We don’t just write and edit anymore, we perform. Start a digital blaze
I almost forgot, we must learn to send viral messages that sweep the country, better, the planet, like a digital brush fire. This is the point where I mention the YouTube video called "Web 2.0 . . . the Machine is Us/Ing Us" (it’s the electronic music that makes it so cool) that has generated more than 2.3 million views. Don’t run off to your computer to watch it until after you finish reading the rest of this column.

Buses and railcars are sitting on the same cusp as magazines and newspapers. Their owners must be willing to embrace the digital world without any guarantee of a return on investment.

Public transportation is not a high-technology enterprise. Sure, the buses are equipped with marvelously complex electronics and computerization, but the operational functions of a transportation system are the equivalent of ink on paper.

Yes, transit is showing signs of merging onto the fast-flowing digital highway. Nearly all transit systems have a Website with routes and schedules, fare information, service changes, meeting dates and contact information. Many motorcoach operators also offer useful information through their Websites, and many also offer online quotes to prospective customers, a nice interactive feature.

The more sophisticated transit properties offer online trip planning and smart card fare collection, while the cutting-edge systems also offer customers GPS-based bus arrival information and Wi-Fi connectivity. Armed with this arsenal of high-end technology, transportation providers can make the ride smoother and more pleasant for their customers. But the bar is being raised higher every day. Demands will only grow
The onset of ubiquity demands more from transit systems and private bus operators. Social networking with riders and prospective riders will be essential. Multiple platforms will be required. Blogs, if you don’t have them, try them. Myspace listings, why not? Video, yes. Podcasts, yes. Viral messages with hypnotic electronica in the background, well, that’s a bit of a stretch.

Now that I’ve lobbed this concept of ubiquity into your lap, let me end with a caveat.

As impressive as interactive communication has become, it should never be an end unto itself. Technology without passion is still just technology. The key to a successful transition to the digital world will be finding employees who love the transportation business and will make the effort to learn new technology. As with most things in life, passion is the key to success, and always will be.

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