As someone who doesn’t work in the tech industry, I tend to be skeptical about Silicon Valley. And by skeptical, I obviously mean envious. The feeling is surely exacerbated by the fact that the rise of apps has coincided with (if not directly contributed to) the decline of my industry. At a time when legacy publications are folding left and right, it seems like I’m constantly reading about some hoodied wunderkind becoming a gazillionaire for disrupting the way we buy burritos. However, even a curmudgeon like myself will occasionally come across a web-based service and think, Hey, I could really use something like that.
Case in point: a new website for runners called Hopdash.
“If I’m new to a city, my first question is where should I run?” says Zach Cole, a 28-year-old product designer for the rideshare app Lyft who launched Hopdash late last month.
After a year in which he spent a lot of time traveling for work, Cole, who grew up minutes from the Boston Marathon course, found that one of the best ways to discover a new city was to jump into workouts with local running teams.
“A lot of the local running clubs tend to carry with them a little bit of the character of the city itself,” Cole says. “You get to go and see the city through the perspective of being a runner.” This insight sparked the question of how he could make the often insular world of local running culture more accessible.
Initially, Cole says, he’d envisioned something like a “Lonely Planet for runners,” a quasi tour guide in which popular Strava routes from different cities would be collected and shared in one place. The problem with this approach, however, was that there’s too much discrepancy between people’s running preferences—one person’s easy jog might be well beyond the capabilities of another—so it was hard to come up with a one-size-fits-all model.
Instead of specific routes, Cole decided that, at least for now, it made more sense for Hopdash to list a city’s running “Hotspots,” like Central Park in New York City or San Francisco’s Crissy Field. Needless to say, this isn’t groundbreaking in itself, but the more compelling aspect of Hopdash is that the site also lists which running clubs are hosting workouts on a given day of the week. A dot-based rating system indicates the degree of competitiveness of a particular club: one dot indicates all levels welcome, four dots implies that the club attracts some pretty serious runners.
As with other aspects of the site, this rating system remains a work in progress. Cole says that he’s gotten feedback from some users who have found it perplexing, so he’s still figuring out the best way to convey club-specific information. Also, at the time of this writing, only four cities appear on Hopdash: New York, Boston, San Francisco, and Seattle.
Still, it’s a start. In its first week, Hopdash received submissions from more than 200 cities requesting to be added to the platform, including Moscow, Lisbon, Dublin, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Lagos. The goal, Cole says, is for the site to eventually become an international resource for runners, one that will provide more detailed information for each running locale—for example, where a runner can expect to find incredible views, or an abundance of public facilities, or a vigorous interval session.
For that to happen, Cole envisions a scenario in which people create user profiles and upload content on their own. When I suggested that this might result in a morass of unfiltered input, Cole agreed that maintaining a standard would definitely be part of the challenge, but that Hopdash could be self-regulating to some degree with enough contributors. A running club that provides a consistently great experience for drop-by guests could be voted up, while a dubious running route could be flagged and taken down—kind of like a runner’s equivalent of TripAdvisor.
“I think there are ways for allowing content like this to really be community-sourced, which I really love because it harkens back to the ethos of why I wanted to build this in the first place,” Cole says. “That’s what’s so cool about running: being introduced to new people and learning about the city through these communities.”
While speaking to Cole, it occurred to me how surprising it is that a site like Hopdash doesn’t already exist. As far as I’m aware, most runners who are about to embark on a trip and are wondering where they’re going to get their miles in are at the mercy of social media or Google. In the past, I’ve often found myself scrolling through anonymous message boards, wondering if MileHighClub84 and I have the same definition of “dangerous wildlife.”
If Zach Cole and his Hopdash project end up successfully fulfilling that niche, I, for one, would be grateful. I might even be happy for him.