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Translink Buzzer Blog

Poll: do you want service alerts on Twitter?

Edit: Garr—the poll doesn’t seem to be working for everybody. We’re working on a solution and the poll itself might have to be restarted in another post. But feel free to leave your comments in the interim!

Edit 2: Fixed, yo! We have a new poll up.

You might not be able to vote in the U.S. elections today, but you can certainly vote in our Twitter poll!

We’re thinking about using Twitter to send out emergency notices for service disruptions. You know: bus cancellations owing to heavy snowfall, or SkyTrain’s at a halt because there’s a fire on the tracks, that kind of thing.

Before we jump headlong into tweeting, though, we’d actually like to know whether you would like us to issue these kinds of notices via Twitter.

Please vote in the poll below, and feel free to leave a comment if you have anything to add. The poll will be open until 4 p.m. next Wednesday, Nov. 12.

Would you like TransLink to start issuing service disruption messages using Twitter?

  • Yes (80%, 4 Votes)
  • No (20%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 5


  • By eugenetswong, November 5, 2008 @ 1:50 am

    I don’t recall voting for this, but the web site says that I did. No matter, though.

    I think that we should use Twitter, because it is free, other than time commitment. Sometimes text messages get through when the internet can’t.

    I can’t imagine why somebody would vote “No”. Perhaps there are concerns about there being no other options, if Twitter is used? Maybe there is a better texting service out there? Can we do this type of SMS notification through Facebook?

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, November 5, 2008 @ 9:59 am

    I have no idea why the poll plugin is doing that. I’ve let our web staff know and hopefully they will have an answer for us soon.

    Thanks for your comments too: much appreciated to know Twitter updates might be useful to you!

  • By eugenetswong, November 6, 2008 @ 6:58 am

    I’ve been thinking more about this.

    It would be neat to have a grass roots thing, where we submit our observations and updates to a mailing list, or SMS list. The idea is to add a bit of redundancy, so that Translink doesn’t have to shoulder all of the burden. Also, sometimes Translink might not get up-to-the-minute information.

    I’d also like to see this kind of grass roots thing being implemented in the other transit areas of BC.

    It allows us to be proactive, and not sit around passively, waiting for Translink to do everything for us.

    I’m curious about what others think about this.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, November 6, 2008 @ 9:47 am

    Eugene, that’s another good idea. I’ll let our staff know about this.

  • By Deano, November 6, 2008 @ 1:04 pm

    I like the idea of being quickly notified when there’s trouble on the transit system, but why should I have to join Facebook or Twitter and expose myself to the problems that have been reported with those services? I have a Telus cell phone that is perfectly capable of receiving a text message.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, November 6, 2008 @ 5:20 pm

    Thanks for your comment! Well, one of the reasons Twitter is coming up as an option is that it’s free. I’m pretty sure text messages cost us to send, which is why we’re not really exploring a text service for disruptions. Good to hear your thoughts on the matter though!

  • By xl, November 6, 2008 @ 9:10 pm

    I agree with Deano concerns. Translink shouldn’t lock itself or rely on other online services. Proprietary services that require registration introduces a liability.

    If SMS costs Translink money, why not use basic emails? Nearly all cellphones have the ability to receive emails. Is there a way we can register our email addresses to Translink and have them email us on service disruptions?

  • By xl, November 6, 2008 @ 9:24 pm

    I’m going to look forward to the day I can edit or append my own comments…

    For those who don’t want to wait. I currently subscribe to News1130 Alerts and AM730 Commuter Club. I get emails about Skytrain failures, Debit/Credit machine failures, and Bridge outages that can affect my bus travel. Once I receive the email, I can quickly adjust my route to avoid problems.

    I still want to see something from Translink that is more detailed, but for now these new services are a start.

    Winter is around the corner and I expect service disruptions will increase.

  • By Nigel, November 6, 2008 @ 10:06 pm

    Please do a twitter. No-one has to join twitter to get twitter updates, you can just follow via RSS or whatever. The ridiculous ease of getting information out of twitter makes it more than worthwhile to put information in.

  • By eugenetswong, November 7, 2008 @ 10:42 am

    I like what Nigel said about “RSS or whatever”. Maybe we should rely on Twitter for our main way of doing things, but also set up other systems for backup. We could test it out now, while everything is still new, and people aren’t relying on the system.

    For example, Translink could send out a few Twitter test messages, a few email messages, and a few RSS notices. Every possible attempt should done for $0, except the time investment.

    Maybe this is a good opportunity for volunteers. Volunteers could pass the information on as second hand information.

    After a few attempts, we could discuss how hard it was and how successful it was. If we discover any new ideas along the way, then we could lather, rinse & repeat. :^)

    If we aim for redundancy, then we should aim for different “channels”, and not just different technologies. Nigel said that we can follow Twitter, via RSS. To get redundancy, we would want RSS from another site, as well as Twitter.

    Comments? Thoughts?

  • By Beth, November 7, 2008 @ 2:14 pm

    Yes, please use Twitter to update us. It is so frustrating when there is something wrong with transit and we don’t know why or how long we will be delayed.

  • By sungsu, November 7, 2008 @ 2:49 pm

    It would also be a good idea for the front line staff to be given timely updates as well.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, November 7, 2008 @ 3:24 pm

    Hey all,
    A bit of info. We are actually developing a system of customer alerts that will include RSS feeds and e-mail updates. It won’t actually be live for some time yet though (early next year?), so we’re just wondering whether Twitter will be a good alert service in the interim, as well as continuing on as a supplement service to our future RSS feeds/e-mail updates.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, November 7, 2008 @ 3:29 pm

    Also, Twitter keeps coming up on our radar as a popular service that many people are starting to use, so it seems like it might be a good tool to communicate with, regardless of the pace of our own homegrown customer service alerts. You know?

  • By xl, November 7, 2008 @ 7:00 pm

    While we wait for Twitter RSS to be implemented, here’s an example of an News1130 alert that came out just now to email subscribers on my cellphone.

    Date: Sat, 8 Nov 2008 06:41:21
    From: News1130

    SkyTrains not stopping at Sperling Station
    A medical emergency has east bound SkyTrains running straight through the Sperling Station. Use the Lake City Way Station instead.

  • By eugenetswong, November 7, 2008 @ 7:40 pm

    I think that Twitter would be a great interm system and a good supplementary system.

    It would be nice if Translink could automatically cross-post the announcements to Twitter, so that you aren’t forced to do extra work.

  • By xl, November 7, 2008 @ 7:56 pm

    What would interest me if the poll is redone is how much interest there is for RSS where I need to check for disruptions, or email where the alerts are “pushed out” to me. If the technology is “pushed out”, the alert is more immediate as I don’t need to check the RSS feed.

    Perhaps the poll should be something like

    X Twitter
    X Twitter RSS
    X Email
    X Some sort of ListServ
    X News1130 Alerts
    X AM730 Commuter Club

    Translink already has a email subscription service called “Translink Listens”. A similar platform can be adapted for for email subscribers. Otherwise, setting up a “listserv” shouldn’t take much. How about about a partnership with News1130 and AM730 much like an Amber Alert system. Yes there are grassroot solutions were we can have immediate benefits while we wait for a long term solution.

    Before I forget, just received the following good news…

    Date: Sat, 8 Nov 2008 07:16:13
    From: News1130
    Subject: News1130 Alert: SkyTrains stopping again at Sperling Station


    SkyTrains stopping again at Sperling Station
    East bound SkyTrains are now stopping at the Sperling Station. Trains were not stopping there for a short time due to a medical emergency.

  • By eugenetswong, November 8, 2008 @ 7:26 am

    xl, I like your poll options. According to your suggestion, would we be able to select more than 1 option, or are you just trying to gauge 1 item which is the most popular?

  • By Raul, November 8, 2008 @ 10:36 am

    As a very frequent user of Twitter, I think it’s a great idea. One thing though – Twitter is mostly used as a bi-directional communication device (some corporations use it ONLY to push announcements, like you’re suggesting above – sort of a TwitterFeed) and people may not like it if the person behind the Twitter account doesn’t respond to feedback (or follow them back on Twitter).

    You may want to name the Twitter account “Translink Service Announcements” (well, a short version of this) so that people understand it’s not a “Translink Customer Service Representative” Twitter account.

  • By xl, November 8, 2008 @ 10:43 am

    I have great difficulty with the original poll question. It was too simple, but confusing. If I voted “No”. Am I saying NO to Twitter or NO to having mobile alerts?

    Yes, the objective is to gauge interest between “push” vs “pull” solutions. Balance Translink solutions vs partnerships with existing mediums available today at minimal cost. See what can be done short term (winter is around the corner), while developing long term options. Explore people’s different tolerances for subcribing to “social networking sites” vs local news providers vs getting more emails. And finally be open to what technical skills are available to Translink, extending examples already proven.

    Eugene, can you think of more options that should be in the poll?

  • By eugenetswong, November 8, 2008 @ 4:51 pm

    xl, I think that you are spot on in this following paragraph.

    ‘Yes, the objective is to gauge interest between “push” vs “pull” solutions. Balance Translink solutions vs partnerships with existing mediums available today at minimal cost. See what can be done short term (winter is around the corner), while developing long term options. Explore people’s different tolerances for subcribing to “social networking sites” vs local news providers vs getting more emails. And finally be open to what technical skills are available to Translink, extending examples already proven.’

    Somewhere out there is a sweet spot that would be a perfect fit for us.

    I also agree with what you said about the poll question. I never thought about it, but now that you mention it, I see the problem.

    Here’s how I would modify the list with my new suggestions. I have used an asterisk instead of an “X” to indicate which suggestions are new.

    X Twitter
    X Twitter RSS
    * Buzzer Blog
    * Buzzer Blog RSS
    X Email
    X Some sort of ListServ
    X News1130 Alerts
    X AM730 Commuter Club
    * Ham Radio
    * Morse Code

    I feel kind of funny when it comes to suggesting Ham Radio and Morse Code, but when it comes to volunteers, almost anything is possible. Morse Code is known for being really good at getting through when there is a poor signal. This could be really helpful in letting people know that there is transit service when there is no internet connection and no other type of phone service. The regular radio could help with this also.

    My initial choices would be everything *except* email, ListServ, Ham Radio, and Morse Code. I don’t like to give out my email address, and I’m not skilled enough in the last 2. With RSS and email, I have to check the server in both situations, so I might as well avoid email.

    I believe that the best overall combinations are Twitter and Buzzer Blog RSS. Twitter could be used for last minute unexpected information and the Buzzer Blog could be used for general warnings that are a day or 2 away. Of course, both could be used for both, but costwise, that’s how I would use them. If I were at work, then I would use the desktop web browser to surf to the Buzzer Blog, or to read the Buzzer Blog RSS, and then wait for the Twitter to update me of unexpected disruptions and continuations in service.

    xl, which do you prefer?

  • By eugenetswong, November 8, 2008 @ 5:00 pm

    Wow. Here’s an article that I accidentally found. The following article is about a community using text messages & 911 to deal with problems. They managed to catch a guy who bought new clothes and tried to escape on a bus.

    Maybe our transit cops could use a Twitter account also. Links could be placed in the Twitter updates, so readers could follow the links to read the descriptions of the crooks. With so many transit users keeping an eye out for lost children and thieves, then the transit system could develop a reputation for being safe.

  • By xl, November 8, 2008 @ 6:04 pm

    The Washington Post article supports the concept of “push solution” for immediatecy and usage of email w/ SMS. I too prefer Emails and/or ListServ for major service disruptions. I want my cellphone to ring when I’m riding the bus, so I can be better prepared to adjust my travel options during an outage. A strong partnership with News1130 and AM730 might be a quick start.

    For minor service interruptions, RSS can be considered for municipal granularity like AM730, but I don’t check RSS feeds that frequently and might miss something that just came out.

    Amaturer radio can be considered for a detailed synopsis on the situation, but most will go into information overload listening to every conversation between driver and supervisor. In addition, amaturer radio frequencies will require an additional appliance to carry. Keeping things simple and using more widely used cellphone solutions simplifies things as emails are multi-platform.

  • By eugenetswong, November 9, 2008 @ 6:01 am

    I was eating supper in a restaurant, while trying to listen to a Chinese language lesson on my phone. I gave up because of how loud the other customers were.

    This shows me that we definitely need to get information out in text form at the very least. Background noise can be so loud on SkyTrain and buses. I assume that SeaBus and the West Coast Express are no different.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, November 10, 2008 @ 9:56 am


    Thanks for all the detail! It’s really great to hear you providing such a thoughtful dialogue.

    Now, regarding the poll question itself: It really is just about Twitter as a service option, not about mobile alerts in general, or about the other ways we could possibly offer these service alerts. So, a “No” vote means no to Twitter, not no to mobile alerts in general.

    This is because Twitter is the only one we’re entertaining as a real option in the very short term right now. There’s no current plans to do anything via morse code, ham radio, and there are already plans to do email alerts and customized RSS feeds in the future. So, I don’t want to leave people with the impression that we’re going to offer morse code or ham radio options, when we aren’t! (Much as we’d like to :) Also, I can’t really ask about email & RSS alerts because those are already going to be offered anyway.

    I also wouldn’t include News 1130 and AM730 on the list of poll options, because those aren’t TransLink-operated services. However, those two stations do already get our urgent customer alerts and push them out to you asap, so they are a very useful source of TransLink alerts in case you do want to use them.

    So, back to Twitter. Again, Twitter is starting to gain in popularity, so we’re just wondering if Twitter specifically is a delivery method we should think about.

    I do agree that the options in the poll might have been too simplistic though, so I’ll think that through a little more. Perhaps a third option with “I don’t use Twitter” will be included. I’d really prefer to keep the poll down to only a few options, in order to generate conclusions that we can actually act upon. (If there’s a million answers available to the poll question, the broad range of results might not provide any conclusive information that we could act on.)

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, November 10, 2008 @ 9:58 am

    Thanks for the advice on how to present our account on Twitter! Very good to know.

  • By Eugene T.S. Wong, November 10, 2008 @ 12:57 pm

    I think that Twitter is definitely something we should think about. I already use Twitter.

    :^) Regarding Morse Code and stuff like that, it was a long term suggestion for somebody else to do. Translink would pass on the message to somebody else, and somebody else would send the message out.

  • By xl, November 10, 2008 @ 7:50 pm

    No ham radio??? Long before the Internet was available. Translink has always made their communications open to public and transit buffs like Aircraft watchers.

    If you have time to research, there’s a few webpages that allow you to listen to the frequencies over the Internet.

  • By Jennifer, November 10, 2008 @ 11:15 pm

    I think using twitter as a means to push out emergency notifications is a great idea. I’d be repeating the things already mentioned if I listed all my reasons why, so I’ll just leave it at that.

  • By BD, November 11, 2008 @ 9:23 pm

    I would also be happy to see Translink post emergency service updates to Twitter or use one of the other ideas that have been suggested.

  • By xl, November 12, 2008 @ 12:21 am

    Translink does stream public their radio conversations to amaturer radio buffs. If you look hard enough, some sites mirror the information across the Internet.

    Translink has been doing this long before the Internet became popular. So instead of listening to planes at the airport, you can listen to our Transit heroes hard at work every day.

  • By Jhenifer Pabillano, November 12, 2008 @ 9:21 am

    Well, xl, thanks for that info! I had no idea about our radio conversations being public. Good to know.

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