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.



Blogger BikeBoy said...

There's a caltrain twitter feed:

The bike commuters have a specific one, too -- to keep track of how many bike cars are on a train, of what configuration ("new" vs. "old")and how full they are:

In the posts/tweets, note the shorthand used to avoid the character limit.

8:13 PM  

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