Our local Toronto Transit Commission is not known for its usability or customer experience. I tried to figure out which one of four buses would be most likely to come by one day recently, and was completely unable to decipher any of them (see above map, which defies all cartography conventions).
The TTC's web site is no better, either from an aesthetic or informational standpoint.
Bringing bloggers into the design process
But let's get to the co-creation, and see what can happen with even a little effort to invite your customers inside the tent...
The story is best told by the blog that started it...Reading Toronto:
"The Toronto Bloggers' website challenge to new TTC Chair Adam Giambrone gathered steam with postings on readingtoronto.com, Spacing.ca, Torontoist.com, Blogto.com, and transit.toronto.on.ca. It seems that Toronto's netroots can influence city hall. In case you missed the news, bloggers in the city were embarrassed by the transit commission's online presence. We asked our readers - people who tend to use the site every day - how they would improve the TTC website. Their answers are honest and insightful."
The new TTC chairman, Adam Giambrone, seems to have accepted the challenge. Today's Globe and Mail reports that he will be meeting with the bloggers to discuss their ideas, and a new site should be up and running by the summertime. !!!
This is a big step for an organization I've heard described as insular, rigid and paramilitary in outlook.
And the input is excellent. Here are a few of the suggestions made via comments on the various blogs:
"Like Google Maps, I want to be able to type in a destination address, execute a search and be taken to a map segment that shows the nearest TTC route; then I’d like to be able to use that route information to construct a travel plan from my point of origin....
The current system expects a user to know what route number he/she wants which is, of course, backwards thinking."
"As well as a journey planner, simple printable maps should be available to broswers, maybe with operation schedules/wheelchair accessible stops/other related information provided."
"Information like closures, schedule changes, or route disruptions should be available on the site, as an RSS feed, as an e-mail subscription, or as an SMS subscription that can be signed up for from a page on the TTC website."
"Trip planner please. Vancouver’s Translink already has one that on their website that’s very helpful. Also, most Translink stations display a phone number which you can call en-route and speak with an attendant regarding Transit schedules, like how long until the next bus, and route information.
I thought this recommendation was particularly insightful...
"...the TTC should hire a someone to head up a Design department. This person will be in charge of formulating standards for TTC advertising, route/schedule information posters, website design, and station/vehicle signage. ....If that doesn’t happen, this will just be a one-off, and like all one-offs will end up decaying into another sloppy mess. The TTC needs design everywhere, not just on its web site."
Another commenter has created a TTC schedule for their Palm, that you can download!!!!!
Another great suggestion from several people: the TTC should make their database available to developers, to enable just this sort of open-source innovation.
The learning here: if people care about your service, they are receptive to helping you improve it to meet their needs better. The insights generated on these blogs contain real insights, the sort of ideas I'd be delighted to generate for a client as part of a research project. And this organization is getting them for free. Let's hope they have the brains to listen.
If your customers built a web site about your organization...
You might ask yourself this: if your customers built a web site about you, what would be there? What tips and tricks would they share with others? What navigational aids? What contact points? What secrets would they share?
"The TTC gets some online help", by Bert Archer in the Globe & Mail, January 6, 2007. [free for 7 days]
Reading Toronto, founded by architect, urban planner and columnist Robert Ouellette, looks at the city from the standpoint of the creative arts.
Torontoist, their TTC post and comments are here
Transit Toronto shows how a dedicated fan site can actually provide significantly more useful information than the corporate site.