Sunday, December 07, 2008

Twitter Train Traffic

I still haven't quite talked myself into using Twitter but I suppose I'm inching towards it.

Today I ran across a really cool use of the service, but one that also shows the flaw in its enforced brevity: Swiss rail delays are posted at

This is a great idea, and apparently the PR folks at Burson-Marsteller had something to do with it. The only problem is that the cornerstone of Twitter is a 140-character limit on posts ("tweets" to the kids).

So you get things like this:

Zwischen Ramsei und Langnau auf der 
Linie Burgdorf - Langnau ist die
Strecke für den Bahnverkehr un...
#sbb #cff #ffs
...which translates loosely as "Between Ramsei and Langnau on the Burgdorf-Langnau line, train traffic is un..."

Of course you could always hire a programmer to condense all that into txt-ese bt nobdy likes u thn. Or you could break it into multiple "tweets," but that breaks the paradigm.

Instead, I think Twitter should allow longer "tweets" in cases where all of the following conditions are met:

  1. The twitterer is a robot.
  2. The information is also available elsewhere (i.e. it's not someone just asking for special Twitter treatment).
  3. The feed is clearly a public service.
  4. Information would clearly be lost at 140 characters.

Traffic reports of all kinds would qualify. Updates from your political party, television show, or church would not.