Journey-sharing app Jaunt (that may or may not be Tinder for friends) was recently named the winner of the Ford Smart Mobility Game Challenge at the Mobile World Congress 2016.
CarStory sat down with the app’s designers, Betsy Medvedovsky and Ilya Zarembsky, to learn more.
Katya: Tell us a little bit about Jaunt – is it mainly intended for travel by foot or car?
Ilya: Jaunt is…an urban exploration and mobility game and social platform. The experience revolves around creating and joining custom outings called jaunts, which are a path that you lay out on the city map and then all the options that go with it – what mode of transportation you want to use, what landmarks you want to visit, how much company you want, etc. Users get points for making and going on jaunts, visiting landmarks, trying different ways of moving around the city. And you get more points for trying something new, so it’s about empowering and encouraging people to explore new parts of their city and try out different ways of moving around it and make new friends in the process. We want it to be a flexible platform that can accommodate lots of different kinds of users — walkers, bikers, car commuters and ride sharers, bus riders, those who are curious about a different mode of transportation but want some support and guidance to try it, parents with little kids, maybe tour guides, those who want to compete with friends and strangers to be the most thorough explorers…et cetera.
Betsy: It’s pretty diverse (which is what makes it so nice and flexible and powerful) but I think what really unifies it is, the idea of discovering the city. So that means, discovering different parts of the city, discovering what it means to move through the city, and finally, and this is what maybe makes it so appealing, discovering the people of the city.
Katya: What do you see for the future of Jaunt?
<Katya: How did you conceive of this idea? It’s awesome!
Betsy: I think the challenge topic — new ways of moving through the city — appealed to us off the bat; it’s a topic that is close to our hearts. Both of us are pretty into urban wandering and getting to know our cities. And, me, personally, I have lived in a ton of different cities, and I find that moving through the city itself is such a key part of getting to know it — are you going to walk? to bike? to take a bus? Drive? And what is it like to do each one? And actually, it turns out that all of those ways of getting around are important. It was my dad who told me when I was living in New York (and mostly getting around by bike), and kind of down about the city and wiped out by it, that I should take a taxi once in a while, to have a new vision of the city, to maybe be inspired by it. Have you ever ridden in a car after not riding in one for a while? It is kind of transformative. And it’s true, I had this magic moment with New York, in the taxi. And I say this as a person who for 7 years or so, got around everywhere mostly by bike. (And of course, it’s actually the same for taking a bike ride, if you haven’t biked for a while — it feels amazing.) So I think a part of it, for me, is this sense, that all these modes of transportation are valid and offer something, and maybe it can lower the barriers to try something new.
And then there’s another part of it; this sort of urban mobility, sustainability perspective. I currently live in Los Angeles, and I love riding my bike and walking and using public transport. But I have seen with so many of my friends, that they have bikes but actually don’t know how to use them in the city — they’re scared of the traffic, and they might not know some good routes, so I get that. Or the same for public transit. Jeez. It’s funny when Ilya and I were in Barcelona, for the MWC, to accept the Ford award, and at first we were walking around everywhere — so we think of ourselves as pretty hearty, intrepid travelers — but the first time we tried to use the metro OH MY GOD WHAT IS GOING ON HERE — WHAT TICKET DO I GET? — WHAT?! moment. So it’s easy to forget those moments, the first few times you navigated the subway, but they are real, and it can be intimidating! So again, I think it’s again lowering the barriers, and making it fun to try out these new things, instead of a burden, i.e. people nagging you to use public transit.
Ilya: Thank you! It’s possible there was a specific moment I’m forgetting where Betsy and I were like “Oh my god, this is it. This is the idea!” but I feel like the concept emerged naturally and gradually over a few months of emails and Google Hangout conversations in the fall. I mean, even if we did have a Big Idea moment, the devil is in the details anyway, right? So that would have come out of that process of conversations. As for what those came out of, well I think it was a mix of the constraints imposed by Ford competition and our own backgrounds and longtime interest in urban exploration and mobility. Both of us have lived all our lives in medium or big cities and on top of that most of that was not in the suburbs but in the “city proper,” so cities are kinda our natural habitat. The way some kids grow up in the forest (I guess in fairytales this happens?) and so they just, you know, know all the birds or different kinds of bark or whatever and feel a natural affinity for those kinds of places, we grew up in the city and I think we’re the same way with urban spaces.
Katya: What’s your preferred method of getting around?
Ilya: I have been a great lover – or at least an obsessive practitioner – of walking through cities for at least 18 years, maybe more. I say 18 years because I remember doing a magazine internship in New York when I was a senior in high school and the internship was in the West Village and I was staying on the upper east side, at 96th street. And I would walk there and back every day. At the time I was a smoker, so part of it was the pleasure of strolling and smoking, but also it was maybe just freedom, feeling like an adult, being away from my parents for a while for the first time and being kinda on my own in this big city. Somebody else might have tried to go clubbing or drinking or whatever, but for me being this shy awkward sheltered chess-prodigy Russian-Jewish intelligentsia what a nice boy type kid, walking was probably near or at the limit of my daring and felt like enough.
Anyway, that has stuck with me (and maybe it was a thing with me before, I don’t remember), and to this day I’m an obsessive walker. Here in New York I walk all the time, from Crown Heights to downtown Brooklyn, from downtown Brooklyn to Williamsburg, from Grand Central to Union Square every time I get back from teaching my game design class in Stamford. It makes me feel free and calm, it’s a space to think, listen to music, and plus there’s so much to look at. I love to see what everyone is wearing, the facades, the storefronts, the cars, and try to describe it all to myself, sometimes document it. I think [this app] is just this thing that welled up from somewhere very deep down in our souls and who we are.
Katya: Is this app based on any pre-existing apps?
Betsy: Yes, absolutely, we were very influenced by existing apps! There are a lot of other apps out there right now — straightforward car sharing apps and social routing apps, but we knew they somehow weren’t getting at it. Waze works like magic but there’s no moment where it says to you, “You know what, your commute every day has been shit, and it might actually be faster for you to bike.” So we wanted something social in that same way, but broader. And that whole social aspect is so key to Jaunt. I think Ilya winces a little when I recount this, but at some point, he said, it should be like tinder for urban mobility, and I think that stuck with me. In some sense Tinder meets google maps, where it gives you all the different options of getting from A to B in different modes of transport.
Ilya: I categorically deny ever comparing Jaunt to Tinder …one of my students though, I was explaining to my game design class what the app was a little bit, and she was like, “oh, it’s Tinder for friends!” and I was like “well, yes, and you see, you can create these custom routes, and there are checkboxes for the various settings, like…” and she was like, “Tinder for friends.” And I’ve heard that from a couple other people – or people will ask “so it’s like a dating thing?” and I’d be like “Well I guess you could use it for that but it’s more like for meeting friends and cool exploration companions,” and they’d be like “Oh cool, so it’s like Tinder for friends.” They wouldn’t use those words, but, yeah.
But yeah, aside from that, I don’t use many apps although it’s definitely possible…likely that my thinking was influenced by some non-travel, non-social apps in some high-level abstract way that is obscure to me! I did see Betsy using Waze a couple of times, but I loathed the way it looked so much, like a rejected Yahoo redesign, that I can’t imagine ever using it. Plus I don’t have a car. I do still want an app like that for scooters, though.
I def think my thinking was influenced by video games a lot, though….waypoints, companions, rewards for exploration & moving around the map in different ways, the UI idea of stat/interests hexagon — all of this stuff is part and parcel of the JRPGs and open-world games and strategy games I (used to) play (more).
Katya:2015 was recently called a “tipping point” for the conversation on climate change. Is there an environmental sustainability slant to the app at all?
Ilya: Personally I wasn’t thinking about that while we were putting the proposal and demo together, but I think it fits and can work with that angle. For people who are used to driving, Jaunt gives them a platform to find carpooling companions, and also encourages them to try using public transit to move around their city, and helps invite them into and open them up to the pleasures of biking and walking. Of course it also goes the other way, the app does encourage you to try going for a drive through your city as well if you’re mostly a biker or a bus rider. But then the more different modes of transportation people try maybe the better they can understand each other and communicate and work with each other to build cities that work well for everyone and for the environment. So yeah, I think Jaunt can definitely help advance the cause of sustainability!
Katya: Last but not least…is there anything you want to share about Ford Mobility?
Betsy: I think it’s very cool. I think there is a pretty widespread understanding that increased urbanization as well as new developments in technology are going to totally change what it means to drive and own a car in the city, and by extension, what it means to be a car company in the next few decades. So I think this project is great, to tackle that challenge head on, and start experimenting, with projects like this competition (and hopefully, eventually, Jaunt) and start understanding what may and may not stick. And I think it’s also telling that Ford was the only car company at Mobile World Congress, it is very cool and very indicative of them being forward-thinking, mobile-thinking.
Ilya: Been a pleasure working with Ford on this, and also with the staff from the Cologne Game Lab, who worked with Ford to organize & run the design challenge. We’re now in the process of talking with Ford to find a way to bring Jaunt closer to reality, so we hope to have some good news and updates in the coming months. Stay tuned!
Special thanks to Ilya and Betsy for allowing us to interview them! Learn more about the Ford Mobility Challenge here.