Re: [messengers] Bike Messengers Pedal Past Bandwidth in Data Race

Date: 25 Apr 2011 14:11:06 +0200
From: Joshua Weitzner <whitesnake@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>

Look!  No fire!  No brimstone!  Just package delivery.

I think this is the first time I haven't been misquoted awfully (kind of missed the boat on the cooperative-partnership-ownership thing though) or taken wildly out of context.

Damn, my bald head is lookin' fine.

Bike messengers will always exist.


On Apr 25, 2011, at 7:16 AM, Joe Hendry wrote:

Bike Messengers Pedal Past Bandwidth in Data Race

By Bryan Derballa

Wired, April 25, 2011

Digital files, cloud computing and accelerating broadband
have long put bike messengers on the endangered species list. No matter how fast a messenger is, even a triple rush can’t compete with instantaneous. For messengers, technology is more of a threat than wily cab drivers and potholes.

But, oddly, technology is also what keeps them around. The
evolution of software and mobile phones has allowed some messenger companies to work in autonomous cells, rather than as an overhead-heavy hierarchy. A central
headquarters is now obsolete, and profit-sharing employees take turns
dispatching and making runs.

“Bike messengers will always exist,” says messenger
entrepreneur Josh Weitzner, citing all the inventions that were supposed to spell the end for bike messengers but didn’t — the latest being 3-D printers with their ability to produce product prototypes from anywhere in the world.

Weitzner’s Samurai Messenger Service in Manhattan is a new breed of messenger company that employs mobile technology and software to keep expenses to a minimum, while cranking up efficiency. Conversely, the non-adaptive, old- school veterans still remain in the game, but they face a bend-or-break dance with changing
times that are squeezing their market.

Twenty-five years ago, a messenger may have been carrying
the digital equivalent of a megabyte in his bag; a number of important notes or messages, perhaps a stack of legal documents, all totaling in the hundreds of kilobytes (more if there were images). Now that information is relayed through
e-mail attachments, third-party hosting and sharing software.

And so the cargo has evolved. Messengers now routinely
transport hard drives with terabytes worth of information for video- production studios. It’s an inflation of information that bandwidth has yet to catch up

Even when the digital pipeline does catch up, there will
always be the tangible objects — garment bags, fabrics, proofs, promotional materials — that need to get from Point A to Point B. Until someone concocts an effective form of particle teleportation, these things will keep at least some
of the messenger industry on the street.

Above: Samurai messenger Austin Horse, 29, is a two-time
North American Cycle Courier Champion and has garnered sponsorship from Red
Bull and Brooklyn Machine Works Bikes.

He tweets from his Nextel Blackberry during runs to stay in
touch with his cycling buddies and market his profile, which keeps his sponsors
happy. (Horse is pictured on pages 1, 2, 6 and 7 of this story.)

Wild Bill Meier (above) has been a messenger since 1982.
Back then, he worked for Western Messengers in San Francisco and his pockets were always filled with quarters because he had to use the payphone to figure out where his
next pick-up was.

Years later, he was equipped with a pager, then a two-way
radio and now a cellphone. Fax machines encroached on his business in the early
days, but nothing close to the aggressive advances of the internet.

In 1992, Meier moved to New York City, where he is now a veteran of
28 years. Meier used to do regular runs for Corbis, a stock photo agency, but since the advent of FTP and e-mails, he has not been to Corbis in years.

“They just zap that shit,” he says.

At 47, Meier has no thoughts of finding another profession.
Messengering keeps him fit and pays the rent, but it also defines him. He works as an independent now, picking up work from a variety of courier companies.

Messengers have had a long back-and-forth race with
technology. Evidence of bike messengers in Paris shows them operating as early as the
1870s. According to the San Francisco Bike Messenger Association, bike
messengers first appeared in the Bay Area in 1894 during a railway strike. They
couriered letters and packages between Frenso and San Francisco.

In the 1900s, Western Union
and even the United States Post Office used bicycles for delivery service. Despite the ubiquity of the automobile, bicycle-messenger service remained a
fast, affordable way of transporting goods locally in urban centers.

The service has survived planes, trains, automobiles and now
the internet. Its continued survival is clear, but surprising, evidence of its
utility to even the most technologically advanced metropolis.

Traditionally, a messenger company consists of an
administrative layer with full-time dispatchers and riders. The administrators run the business, the dispatchers relay the addresses of the orders to the
riders and the riders pick up and drop off deliveries.

At Samurai Messenger Service in Manhattan, each employee helps run the
business and takes turns dispatching and riding.

Rather than working out of a massive call center, founder
Josh Weitzner works from a home office with nothing more than a computer, business phone and two-way radio. When others are dispatching, he forwards the
business line to their mobile.

Most of the company’s orders are placed through software
called Courier Connex, which allows for easy online ordering and billing. As the orders come in, Weitzner or another dispatcher assigns them to the riders, depending on their location. A good dispatcher organizes the runs close to each
other for maximum efficiency.

E-mailing jobs reduces the errors in reading addresses over
a staticky radio connection. And once the order is delivered, the client can
log in to see real-time proof-of-deliveries (PODs). This frees up the
dispatcher’s attention so he can focus on good routing.

Except for insurance, the operating costs for Samurai are
almost negligible. Technology has liberated the company from the rent and the stress of a brick-and-mortar office, allowing employees more time where they’re
the most comfortable — on the streets.

While Weitzner is not making quite what he was before the
recession, the business is growing through word-of-mouth and the profits are rising. Instead of the $4 to $6 a rider might make with a conventional company, a Samurai messenger averages around $10 an order and an average day pays out
between $130 and $200.

Despite the messengers’ embrace of digital technology, the
bikes are still mechanically simple.

The longstanding trend with messengers is the fixed-gear
bicycle: Bikes that have only one gear that works in direct proportion to the pedaling speed of the rider so if the back wheel is moving, so are the pedals —
no coasting.

This allows the messenger to control his speed with his
legs, keeping his hands free for the radio and, ideally, some steering. Many of the messengers may also have 27-speed carbon fiber bikes, but most prefer to work on fixed or single-speed bikes that they can ride through any conditions
and lock up anywhere — and that require little maintenance.

Many messenger services also have a cargo bike (above) on
hand for larger packages that would usually require a truck or van for
delivery. Increasing the allowed package size is another way messengers have
adapted to keep their services relevant.

On top of the practical benefits of conducting an
internet-driven business, Samurai also successfully uses Facebook and Twitter
to market themselves and keep in contact with customers.

Being able to see what riders are up to and get a sense for
their personalities gives clients a new connection to the messenger business. Like many industries before it, technology has helped bike messengering evolve,
rather than supplanting it.

“Literally the only thing that will put an end to bike
messengers is the ability to move physical things cheaply and quickly through the data stream,” says Weitzner. “Which doesn’t look like it’s happening anytime soon. If anyone’s doing serious research into this, please give us a
call, I’d like to invest now.”

Mess media -

Messengers mailing list