When there was a fire on the Red Line on Saturday morning, a simple @ctatweet of info from a conductor tipped me off 15 minutes before it hit the news.
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Here’s the upshots:
- ctatweet.com is a way to see postings to the CTA Alerts wireless notification utility without signing up for that system. Use this RSS feed to monitor all alert postings from CTA Alerts as well as additional tweets from /ctatweet on Twitter
- It is also a way for Twitter users to post less urgent, but still useful & interesting things about the current state of Chicago public transit as you’re experiencing it. See the list on the left or use this RSS feed to monitor all ctatweet @replies or just watch this Web page
- All posts to the CTA Alerts system at http://www.upoc.com/group.jsp?group=ctaalerts automatically appear here: http://twitter.com/ctatweet (thanks to Harper and his chicago.transitapi.com). If you like the UPOC group and want to keep working with that, you can safely ignore everything from here. We will support that system for the foreseeable future, and it will still have the same rules of posting etiquette
Here’s some more background, if you’re interested
My brother Kevin, the writer of the CTA Tattler, and I have been running the CTA Alerts system since July of 2005. I made the group on the upoc.com Web site shortly after the 7 July 2005 London terrorist bombings of their transportation system. We had had an unattended package scare here in Chicago and posters to CTA Tattler — in between complaints about the poor top-down communications from the CTA — posted very detailed information about what they knew and when they knew it to the comments section of the blog.
I figured, “what if these people told each other what they knew, when they knew it, instead of typing it into a blogging tool 5 hours after the fact?” Much to my surprise, the CTA themselves began posting high-quality information to the system through their handle CTA_HQ shortly after launch. There have consistently been about 400 members making sparse, informative posts “in the event of service disruption or emergency on the Chicago Transit Authority”, as we say on the group’s homepage.
Since then, we’ve talked with about how to improve the system and make it less cheesy. There are two big requests that everyone seems to have had from the start — the ability to subscribe to only the line(s) you’re interested in and the ability to monitor the alerts w/o having to sign up for some third-party system. The fact that the system runs over phone devices in the main (and email as well) has also been a pain for people, based on the possible costs-per-text and general “I didn’t really need to be told about the #49X bus right at this moment” angst.
I’ve talked with a number of people about moving the alerts over to a better system, and I’ve really appreciated all of these conversations. Throughout all of that, the thing I didn’t want to do was make a big deal out of it. I didn’t want anyone to write new software or set up new shortcodes or write down any software requirements. Despite its bric-a-brac set of communities and users, UPOC worked
Using UPOC was, in fact, the dumbest thing to do in 2005. I like to solve technology problems in the dumbest way. One reason is that, even though I’ve been working as an internet consulantant for more than a decade, I’m really just a poet and don’t have much on the technical skill side. The other reason is I’ve found that doing things the way that first pop into your mind (the dumbest way) usually works. Consider it the Web’s “first thought, best thought” maxim.
More technology came out, and I kept thinking of dumber ways to allow n number of people to notify n number of people what was currently going on in Chicago public transit. Twitter was the answer almost from the start, but since it was a one-to-many publishing tool, that didn’t work at first. Besides, why force 400 people who are happy with one Web service to move to another one? As time went by, and the @reply standard was formalized, and the search became solid, it became clear that Twitter was the way to go.
The problem was what to do with the posts from UPOC. Harper Reed solved that. More on Harper soon– I interviewed him last week about his CTA Bus Tracker “API”. More soon also on the CTA’s plans for the publication of raw data. CTA President Ron Huberman said recently that a “Transit Tools” portion of the planned CTA Web site will be devoted to publishing raw data and encouraging the developer community.
So that’s where we’re at. Read the FAQ for more information, especially @reply posting guidelines. If you have any questions, hit me at danielx at gmail dot com.
September 23, 2008 1 Comment