Big commutes, big trains, big data

One UK train operating company is taking tiny steps towards using the big data volumes generated by complaining commuters…

The BBC carried an interesting story last week about how South West Trains, an UK train operating company, is using Twitter both as a customer service tool and, more interestingly, as a source of aggregate data about problems on the trains:

One of these monitors is dedicated to Tweetdeck, the tweeting tool that enables users to run keyword searches on the micro-blogging platform. She looks out for any mentions of key station names and other relevant phrases.

“We had a door problem at Winchester,” Allison says.

“I was sitting on the desk and a passenger tweeted me – I let the guys here know that we’ve got a problem with the train at Winchester, before the guard had actually picked up his phone to let us know it had happened.

“That was when everyone here started saying, ‘Wow’.”

While some of the reactions to the piece have focused on the, uh, less than stellar experience of travelling on London’s trains, that’s pretty typical of some elements of the tech press’s inability to see the woods for the leaves. A train operating company are starting to see that the vast data set of commuters sat in their trains, sharing issues and problems on social media, can deliver disruption news faster than their traditional systems.

That’s big data at work, fast.

They’ve recognised the possibilities. Let’s see where they go next…

Photo by Fred Boniface on Flickr, and used under a Creative Commons licence.