Tweets on a trainJanuary 3, 2011
Late last month Caltrain rolled out it’s first official Twitter account, @CTwkendBullets. It’s an account made just for Caltrain’s new weekend bullet trains, and it sends a clear message: Caltrain doesn’t really get Twitter.
Given that @caltrain is taken—by a community of contributors that are regular Caltrain riders—I can see how Caltrain doesn’t have much to go on with Twitter.
They have to know about the account, but they likely don’t have the infrastructure or Internet prowess to effectively manage such an account. Perhaps not even the interest. But, that’s okay—don’t fix what isn’t broken. However, that doesn’t mean Caltrain couldn’t benefit from using Twitter.
Tweets are just to be tweeted, they’re to be consumed. There is so much information on Twitter that it’s often overwhelming. On the other hand, the amount of information from Caltrain is often limited, (inadvertently?) keeping riders in the dark.
Opportunity in consumption
Herein lies the opportunity for Caltrain: do something awesome with the information that your passionate riders provide. What could they do? Here are a few ideas to illustrate my point:
Promote the @caltrain account
Promoting the (unofficial) @caltrain account would go a long way to reassuring restless riders during those maintenance periods and train delays. Promoting fast follow for @caltrain, which allows anyone with a cell phone to follow an account’s tweets without actually having a Twitter account, would be even more awesome.
Messages promoting the account could appear in brochures, on signs at stations, and on placards on the trains. Putting them right on paper tickets and the vending machines would be even better.
Move past the marquee displays at stations
Nothing shows Caltrain’s antiquated ways more than those slow and annoying orange marquee signs at train stops. Most commonly used for showing the time and date, they occasionally show mildly useful information when trains break down or are delayed.
Instead of just scrolling text on those marquees, having displays of tweets from the @caltrain account would be fantastic. I can’t tell you how many times I see people staring down the tracks looking for a train that won’t be there. When the service has interruptions, 9 times out of 10 I know why or for how long because of the @caltrain account.
Swap out the dated marquees for displays that show the arrival time of the next train and where it stops, accompanied by the latest tweets from @caltrain for riders to connect delayed arrivals with their likely causes.
Display Tweets on the trains
Related to the point about tweets at the stations, tweets on the train would be badass. Something akin to an iPad with a 3G card running a Twitter app would be fantastic, though unlikely. Promoting the account on the trains would make massive headway here anyways, as many people have their mobile devices already, but it’d certainly be awesome to see.
Bonus: Check into Foursquare, Gowalla, etc for Clipper
Clipper card is this neat idea that allows people to put money on a card and tag on and off at stations as payment. It replaces paper tickets as payment validation and swaps it out for card readers the conductors operate. The concept is great, but I still think the system has a lot of kinks to work out as I often see broken and inaccurate readers while on the train.
It’d be an interesting concept to see if using mobile phones to check into stations could substitute such a process. Checking into Foursquare or Gowalla at the station you board at on depart at would be the equivalent of tagging on and off. There is also the potential for commercial tie-ins given the direction checkin services have taken lately.
Caltrain is trying to embrace the future with whatever assets they have right now. The state of their financials is worrisome, but they have no choice except to move forward. Trying to embrace Twitter has so far yielded unimpressive results, but I have hope for them. If they can get it together and do something great with Twitter, it’d help them keep riders happier and provide much more value and utility compared to an account dedicated to just weekend bullets.