The Launch of CTA Tweet
Guest post by Dan O'Neil.
Today is the launch of a new Web site, CTA Tweet, an unofficial Twitter tracker for the Chicago Transit Authority. We also started a series of Twitter accounts for each train line and the bus system as a whole. There are two things you can do with CTA Tweet:
1. Monitor postings to the CTA Alerts wireless notification utility without signing up for a UPOC account.
All posts to the CTA Alerts system at http://www.upoc.com/group.jsp?group=ctaalerts automatically appear on Twitter here: http://twitter.com/ctatweet (thanks to Harper Reed and his chicago.transitapi.com). If you're only interested in true alerts, this is for you. If you have a Twitter account, just follow CTA Tweet and you're done. If you want to publish to this feed, sign up here, just as before. CTA Alerts remains an effective source for transmitting "rider-to-rider communication in the event of service disruption or emergency on the Chicago Transit Authority", just like it has been since July of 2005. This is just a new way to get alerts from an existing system that opens it up to a lot more people. Go here to find out how to subscribe to this system.
2. Monitor what people are saying about the CTA in general, each train line, and/or the bus system as a whole at ctatweet.com via Twitter @replies.
If you have a Twitter account (what is Twitter?), you can use an @reply to post less urgent, but still useful and interesting things about the current state of Chicago public transit as you’re experiencing it. We pull those replies together and publish them in one place. Keep in mind that these are not alerts as we've come to know them over the years. This is the random chatter and tweets of the Internet; people who use the @reply feature in Twitter to publish about the CTA. If people buy into this, we think it has a lot of potential for organizing real-time information about the second largest transit sytem in United States. Here's a complete list of the Twitter accounts and @reply feeds we have.
Here's some background and further discussion.
This isn't rocket surgery.
Here's how the system works:
- We take emails that are sent from a free, somewhat cheesy wireless group Web site, format it in a nice little JSON string, and publish it to http://twitter.com/ctatweet. This was created and maintained by Harper Reed -- go ahead and do whatever you want with it.
- We set up ctatweet.com with a WordPress installation to hold posts.
- Then I do a search for the @reply phrases in Twitter, burn a Feedburner feed for the result, and use Feedburner BuzzBoost to republish those feeds on the proper pages over at ctatweet.com
That's about it -- UPOC, some custom Django, WordPress, Twitter, RSS, Feedburner, done.
That's where you come in
The most important thing we need to make this worthwhile is for you to contribute. Here are some ideas for what you might say and how you might say it:
- If you wanted to report a problem on train car number 3008 on the Blue Line -- too dirty, no air conditioning, etc. -- you might tweet "@ctablue 3008 no air conditioning". This would show up here on the ctablue @reply feed page with a direct link, time stamp, etc.
- The people over at WhereTheEl have a suggested syntax so they can plot the locations of trains (note to self-- write to them about a shared syntax).
- How about Missed Connections -- "@ctared at Grand at 8am thanks for paying my fare"
- Better "After the alert" reporting.
- Here's documentation of the actual bus involved in an accident the other day: "ctabus 63 6230 was involved in an accident with two cars."
There are lots of other applications for a system like Twitter that allows you to publish, archive, and syndicate data from an infinite number of people who know things. Let us know what you think in the comments.
Known issues/this might actually be lame
It's entirely possible that this whole thing (the @reply feeds, not the CTA Alerts feed) isn't worthwhile, for a number of reasons.
Maybe no one will really care to interrupt their commute or their online surfing to update their Twitter accounts about the CTA. If that's what happens, it wouldn't be that big of a deal, since it didn't take that long to make. But, given the shit-ton of people doing @replies and hash tags (#) on Twitter, I'm thinking that enough people will be into it. See this Twitter syntax page for more.
It might also be too confusing to deal with. If anything (everything?) in this post doesn't make sense, make a comment and we'll try to make the explanations better.
Another issue is the fact that we haven't automated publication to the individual train line and bus Twitter accounts. Currently, it's all about the @replies. Stay tuned -- we may need some help on this. Picture taking on the persona of your favorite bus and posting to the Internet. Here's an example of a guy in Philadelphia who became Rittenhouse Square.
Lastly, as we note on the @ctabus feed page, that is currently not optimal, in that there is not a Twitter account for every bus. If you’re up for starting up a Twitter account for your bus, go for it. Just to keep the same format we’ve been using, it would be a good idea to get a Twitter username of “cta49X” or “cta36″, “cta22″, etc. Let me know at daniel at gmail dot com that you started it up (or just tweet me at @juggernautco) and we’ll add it to the mix.
Thanks for reading. Let us know what you think.