Twitter's usefulness can most often be measured during times of disaster, when the quick spread of important information can really make a difference. And guess what--that works for traffic jams too. CommuTweet is proof of that, with a new service that lets those who are unfortunate enough to get stuck in traffic, or a long-delayed bus or train line to share that information with others.
The service revolves around the use of a specially formatted tweet that can be localized to whatever state you're in, and what kind of transportation you plan on riding. To get things narrowed down to this level, users have to construct their outgoing messages in a special format. This starts with a #CommuTweet hash tag, followed by the abbreviated name of the state, followed by a one letter short code that tells other users what part of the transit system is down or backed up, be it bus, subway, ferry and rail. When completed, this leaves users with around 125 letters to type any additional information about what's gone wrong.
To access all of this information, users can either view and sort it from CommuTweet's site, or through Twitter's search tool. However, the benefit of using CommuTweet is that you can log-in using your Twitter credentials and get it to automatically add the hash tag and location to your outgoing messages--that is as long as they're done from its composition tool. It can also post the message just to CommuTweet and not your public timeline, as well as filter the tweets you see from others to just your state and your preferred form of transportation.
Using CommuTweet I was able to set up my commute parameters in about a minute. The problem, at least for California, is that it's a big state with many different transportation mediums. In most cases I'm better served simply subscribing to the news feeds of the public transit services I use, or logging into their sites to see if there are any alerts. That's where this tool really impressed me though--it's already subscribed to these feeds. As long as the transportation service has a Twitter feed it'll show up on CommuTweet. This solves one of the biggest problems with these crowd-sourced solutions, which is seeding any lapse of user-created data with a constant stream of information from the source.
See also TrafficTweet, which lets users tweet traffic alerts for specific cities. It also has a mobile app which can add exact location and show you where jams are happening, which CommuTweet cannot currently do.
Related: Who owns transit data?