Originally appeared on Medill Reports
Since the first bike was rented last June, riders of Divvy bikes have taken more than 750,000 trips.
When that data is turned into a map, one of the dots will be Sebastien Klein, 35, a Lake View resident who is an occasional user of the light blue two-wheelers. “I think it’s a great idea, but it could probably be executed a little better,” Klein said of the service before yanking out a Divvy from a stand in the Loop. “The bikes aren’t really comfortable and they’re pretty heavy to maneuver, but they will get you around and that’s what matters.”
Divvy Bikes, the Chicago arm of Montreal-based Alta Bicycle Share Inc., announced a competition Tuesday, in which it’s asking developers, designers and data scientists to take its raw usage data and “present the data in visually compelling ways.” In essence, Divvy is crowdsourcing its data analysis.
The bike share program, funded in part by the Chicago Department of Transportation, wants data enthusiasts to produce “infographics, maps, images, animations or websites.”
Divvy is offering five winners two year-long bike-sharing memberships, along with T-shirts, water bottles and other assorted accessories. The winning designs will be hosted on Divvy’s site as well as the walls of 1871, a Chicago startup hub that helps entrepreneurs launch businesses.
1871, which is run by the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center, will judge the competition entrants along with Divvy staff, city transportation officials and local data scientists.
The data for all 759,788 trips taken in 2013 is available for download on Divvy’s site. The anonymous data shows where riders picked up bikes, where they dropped them off and how long the trips were. The data also shows the subscriber’s gender and birth year.
View Divvy Locations in a full screen map
This treasure trove of data has led some local enthusiasts to attempt to make sense of the numbers. On Reddit, the social news aggregator, one user pulled out pertinent information within hours of the data being released.
Some people, however, are concerned the competition is a form of “spec work”, or speculative work, where professionals provide services to prospective clients in the hopes that they will be paid for the work at a later date.
This type of work is frowned upon by the AIGA, a professional association for graphic artists in the U.S. On its website, the association says that “professional designers should be compensated fairly for their work.”
“It’s a common thing that I’ve heard,” said Elliot Greenberger, deputy general manager for Divvy, in response to the criticism.
Greenberger said Divvy was not looking to use competition entries for financial gain. “The goal is not to better operate our system – the goal is to celebrate three quarters of a million trips,” he added.
Greenberger added that Divvy released the data in response to previous calls to be more transparent about how the service is used. “If at the end of the day we learn something new about Divvy, that’s great but it’s supposed to be fun.”
Tom Alexander, chief operating officer of 1871, defended the hub’s involvement in the competition. “Open access to data has been a growing trend throughout Chicago and has been a very successful thing,” Alexander said. “A lot of people have been developing all sorts of things that have been great for Chicago and we think it’s important for everyone to have access to the data and be able to work with it.”
A trip to Paris in 2007 inspired former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley to introduce the rent-a-bike concept to the Windy City. Daley said he would try to create a similar system to the one in Paris “very shortly,” but it took almost six years for Divvy to hit the road in Chicago.
Divvy bikes have been available since June 2013 and so far they have received mixed reviews. On Yelp, the user review site for businesses and attractions, critiques range from five-star praise and “I LOVE Divvy!” to one-star chastisements of Divvy’s “rip-off” prices.
In the Loop, Rebecca O’Neill, a 29-year-old native of St. Louis, still appeared undecided, jostling the aluminum bike frame into a dock. “I used Divvy a lot when I moved to Chicago last summer, but it was pretty expensive in the long run so I bought my own bike, but it’s getting new tires on right now,” O’Neill said. “I think the whole concept is a good idea because I’d really like to see Chicago get more bike-friendly.”
She, too, will become a dot on the Divvy map. The competition runs until March 11.