The first topic in my rebooted biweekly column at Eye Weekly is about Twittering in Toronto. I’ve written a few times about Twitter here, mostly pointing to times when I’ll be live-tweeting something in the city using my own Twitter account. The success or interesting-ness of such endeavors is debatable, but in today’s column I focus on how Twitter enhances my experience of Toronto (read the rest here).
Like Facebook, you choose who you follow — or, more accurately, listen to — as you get to curate your own Twitter experience. Many of the people I subscribe to are from Toronto, and throughout the day I get a sense of what’s going on in the city, as if I’m hanging my head out the window, overhearing a slice of it.
To geek out for a moment (it’s apropriate when talking about Twitter), the â€œsoundâ€ of it reminds me of that line Obi-Wan Kenobi said in the first Star Wars, when the Empire destroys Princess Leia’s home planet of Alderaan: â€œI feel a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced.â€ Last Thursday night I was out for a walk in the dark and frozen Don Valley with friends and checked Twitter on my iPhone and learned about the blackout through tiny stories that were so personal and fast that I felt like my finger was on the west side’s collective pulse even though I was far from it.
Like a lot of social media, Twitter can be both fun and entertaining and yet full of utility. One area I only briefly got into was the TTC, often a hot topic in the Toronto Twitterverse during a service disruption. This morning I first heard about the shooting at Osgoode Station from tweeting of the folks I follow. One of those people is @bradttc, or “Brad Ross” as he is known elsewhere, the TTC’s Director of Communication (the “@” before a name is how people are recognized on Twitter). Twitter is instant and feedback is direct, so it’s a brave move for Ross to engage in Twitter. As I mention in the article, Twitter is like hearing a lot of Toronto at once, so imagine the collective anger of commuters directed directly at you, without the usual distance (or firewall protection) that email or other forms of communication have. To his credit, he takes everything rather well, answering questions and providing information. This kind of openness on the part of the TTC is quite unprecedented and should be commended.
While the TTC does issue service disruptions via RSS, those of us who trust the crowd can benefit by looking into the aggregator created by Brian Gilham called TTC Updates Community Edition. First he created TTC Updates that pulled the RSS feed from the TTC and fed it into Twitter (putting the information where people are already reading). With Community Edition he uses Twitter’s hash-tag function (see my Eye column for a description of this) to feed any tweet tagged with #ttcu into one centralized place (you can read #ttcu via the Twitter page or on Gilham’s page, which itself has an RSS feed). This is a fantastic project that uses the little data the TTC makes public and couples it with information created by TTC passengers and customers giving us all available information about the state of the TTC at a given moment (dependent, of course, on having people there to tweet — which is one reason why I call for more tweeting by more people everywhere).
With nifty setups like this, you can imagine the kinds of applications Toronto’s vast geek community will come up with when the TTC makes all their publicly-owned data (including GPS locations of vehicles) available to … the public. I say “when” because, again to his credit, @bradttc checked with the TTC’s IT department (after I twitter-complained to him that if I had access to knowing where the college streetcar was, I’d not have waited at McCaul street a half-hour for one) and he reported that the data would be made public this year. Good news.
Image by Dave Delaney