I’m always intrigued by the way a particular community takes to new technology. I think it is in such communities that you see the unexpected uses, and where innovation lies – it’s where you are likely to find von Hippell’s ‘lead users’. As a (not very fast) runner, I think the running community’s use of technology is probably typical of this specialist development.
Firstly, there is the community itself – for all those people who think that discussion on the internet is just teenagers flirting with each other, they should read the forums as Runners World. These are interesting, informed, insightful and intelligent (and lots of other words beginning with ‘in’ as well). This kind of informed discussion doesn’t happen in broadcast media, and rarely even face to face. It is a good example of the sort of discussion that can only arise because of the internet. As Jeannette McDonald asked of e-learning ‘Is as good as face to face as good as it gets?‘ I feel the same about much discussion – we should invert the situation and after a good face to face chat with someone pass the compliment ‘that was almost as good as online.’
Then there useful tools – for instance Gmap pedometer takes the Google maps API and overlays a device for plotting your route. This is invaluable for planning runs. Unfortunately only a few countries are available at the moment. Luckily for me Cardiff is in very high definition. Then there are sites such as Asics, which allow you to create programs and offer log books and calculators. I am using this to train for a half marathon at the moment.
Then there are the tools. Runners are generally obsessed with data, and many like me, are rather addicted to their Garmin forerunner, which will give you pace, distance, route, history, training partner, etc. It does struggle on a cloudy day though and one can spend more time looking at it, waiting for the signal to come back than actually concentrating on running. And while they may not be my favourite companies, you have to admit that the new Nike+ is cool – a sensor in your shoe transmits to your ipod Nano, giving you audio update on pace and distance and you can select ‘power songs’ which tend to boost your running. The site has some good tools also.