Commuter Feed: Good idea, not ready for prime time yet

Commuter Feed: Good idea, not ready for prime time yet

At first glance Commuter Feed seems like a good idea. It harnesses the power of Twitter to get regular commuters to update traffic conditions in real-time as they travel from their mobile phones.

Big companies like Smartraveler have been doing this for a while using their own sensors and observers and police reports, but Commuter Feed is supposed to harness the power of “the social”, i.e. the great cloud of Web users.

Here’s the flaw though: It relies on people typing out messages on their phones while driving. This is a problem. There are enough inattentive drivers out there talking on their phones, we don’t need to add texting to the mix. Just recently we had a case locally of a guy who hit and killed a 12-year-old boy because the driver was texting on his phone.

Okay, if you’re stopped in traffic that’s not moving, it’s one thing, but if you’re moving even at a couple miles per hour, you’re too likely to be distracted enough to bump someone around you.

You could use a voice-to-text system like Jott, which I’ve used with success for note-taking and other application several times recently, but it’s not easy to follow the exact Twitter format that Commuter Feed demands from a voice prompt. I’ll have to experiment with it.

Commuter Feed is a good idea, but I would recommend that if you can’t use it with a voice-to-text system that you leave it your passengers or only send in the notice after you’re in the office. It’s too dangerous otherwise.

N.B. I have left feedback for the developers asking them to add integration with Jott.


  • Many cell phones today, including mine and those of my children, are equipped with GPS’s.  (And certainly anyone who is going to be chased by Jack Bauer has one).  I think the way the Garmin GPS integrated real time traffic works is by bouncing the GPS signals off a satellite and using the data to determine if there is a traffic slowdown.  I’m no technowizard, but that’s how it was explained to me, and the system isn’t perfect.    Very often when I’m pulling into the Target parking lot, my GPS will say, “Traffic ahead.”   

    But one time my Garmin integrated traffic saved the day when it announced in Staten Island, “there is a better route available,” and it guided me over some side roads past what was surely an hour long backup to get over the bridge to NJ.

    Real time traffic is also available on XM radio.  I haven’t found it as reliable as the Garmin, but it is definitely more current than the local newsradio’s traffic and transit on the 2’s.  I have no idea how the XM system works.

  • I’m fairly certain the consumer-level GPS units do not transmit to the satellites. For one thing they do not have enough power or a big enough antenna. Plus there’s the whole privacy thing. I could be wrong though.

    I think what they’re doing is using the real-time traffic conditions provided by companies like Smartraveler, who have their own networks of sensors.

    It’s a pretty snazzy system though.

  • Hi,
    After reading this post and realizing the great danger that we have caused those on the road, we at Commuter Feed are now actively engaged in campaigning for users to refrain from text messaging or any other cell phone behavior while behind the wheel.

    We believe that the benefit of the site comes from users that are posting once they have safely arrived at their destination, not those who are driving and will likely make the situation worse.

    Please know that we do not endorse text messaging while driving in any way and believe that it is extremely dangerous and disturbing behavior.

    Thank you,
    Ron – Founder, Commuter Feed