This is a thing now, isn't it?
Across lots of the UK this week there was lots of snow. Enough snow to stop trains and buses and make roads to dangerous to drive on. Enough snow to stop people getting to work.
As you would imagine the social networks were full of banter about snow and commuting. Being a bit of a boring wally I kept searching Twitter to see how that compared with the official information being given out. It was actually quite interesting.
Let's get the obvious out the way. The main train company websites were completely useless. So ill informed as to be totally redundant. This one just says the "live departure boards are currently unavailable". And look at the horrible vague language "most Southern services are currently suspended due to adverse weather conditions". And then they feel the need to tell you this is an important annoucement in words as well as a whopping great exclamation mark road sign thing. In, er, a yellow lozenge.
As a side note just look at that as an example of a 'digital strategy' gone wrong. Bookmark the site on StumbleUpon - tick! Share with your friends on Facebook - tick!
Compare this redundant, vague information with this deep, rich information from Twitter.
(And yes that's a different train company, but they were all acting the same. I was just doing random Twitter searches.)
That's really rich information. Genuinely helpful. Let's not forget that lots of Twitter is inaccurate and profane, but if you bypass that you get really useful stuff in there. It's really helpful to know that they've started closing stations, in someways more helpful than whether the stations are just open or closed. And it's one thing to tell you the station is "experiencing overcrowding" it's another to explain that Police are on the platforms to deal with overcrowding.
If I was smarter I could write something here about fuzzy states or something. Something clever about giving you information that's between an ON and an OFF state. Grey as oppossed to black and white.
You also get pictures which add yet more depth. Some of these pictures even manage to add humour to a miserable situation.
Here's another example which further highlights the gap between the information being given out and what is actually happening.
So why can't the train comapines provide richer information? Information that's greyer and fuzzier but more helpful for that. I guess it's (way) too much to ask them to just display tweets on days like this instead of their official, boilerplate info. (Yes I know most of it would just show swearing, but they could filter out certain keywords.) Maybe they could get someone to manually search and select tweets and twitpics to display?
They could actually find a genuinely helpful use for hyper local, citizen journalism style reporting.
Once again, I am reminded of this quote by Larry Page.
"It turns out you have two choices: You can try to control people, or you can try to have a system that represents reality. I find that knowing what’s really happening is more important than trying to control people."