Waze Application Homepage

Waze – “Outsmarting Traffic Together” – application homepage.

A new report “Connected Commuting” was just released on the use of social networking in transport. The report describes how commuters use two social network apps to share information: Waze (for automobile drivers) and Roadify (for public transport users).

The study used two techniques: sentiment analysis of words used in the social network comments and focus group discussions. The primary sentiment analysis method used was a software program that recognizes the emotional connotation behind specific words and phrases.

Connected Commuting (2012) Report Cover

Connected Commuting (2012) Report Cover

The study’s main conclusion is that social networking can be very useful for improving transport. It recommends that transport agencies use Sentiment Analysis to help provide better information to users. The report also recognizes that “technology is integral to the future of commuting” and states, “There is a real opportunity to please commuters and enhance the commuting experience through future app technology.”

I’d say that these conclusions also apply to transport in general (not just commuting) and the full report is well worth reading. On the other hand, the report seems to go too far with its generalizations about the differences between how auto drivers and public transport passengers use social networking. Clearly these groups use social networking differently, but I think there’s not enough data to support strong conclusions on differences since this field is changing extremely rapidly and the study was based on a limited amount of data. (The Roadify data used in the Sentiment Analysis was for a relatively short amount of time and the focus groups were very small.) This isn’t meant as a criticism of the study, only to say that it’s clearly the beginning of a fascinating field of research. Congratulations to the Task Force for starting the process and developing a structured approach for the analysis.

One idea for further research to consider additional social networks and uses of information. Maybe public transport users don’t use social networks as much as drivers because public transport users are well served by existing real time schedule applications. So it would be interesting to consider how social networking apps can be used to achieve other transport goals such as reporting system problems (e.g. seeclickfix) or long range planning input (e.g., GreenCityStreets.com). There were also several fascinating studies on the use of Twitter and Facebook presented at the 2012 Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting (Transit Wire report on Chicago CTA project) and 2011 IIID Transport Conference in Vienna (my summary notes).

Read more discussion of the Connected Commuter report at the Transit Wire and Atlantic Cities.

The Connected Commuter study was conducted by the “New Cities Foundation Task Force in San Jose” a team consisting of the New Cities Foundation, Ericsson, the City of San Jose’s Department of Transportation, and the University of California’s Mobile Millennium team from the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society.