Our social platform for bus stops drew national media attention and comments from thousands of commuters. It also opened up touching, personal stories about a part of city life we take for granted.

Note: This Is Our Stop was unofficially put into hiatus in January 2014. The site is still semi-active, but lower on the maintenance list and as such may have some glitches. We will formally shutter the site in 2015.

Where We Started

Bus stops are anchor points for urban experiences. A small community of people use each one, but often don’t know each other. If they got together somehow, what would they say about those shared spaces?

What We Did

We created a mobile website that, in essence, created a micro social network around each of the 8,000+ bus stops served by the local authority. Using the web browser on their mobile phones, people entered the stop number to access a local map and schedule for that location, along with comments from others, and a space to write their own. While we could view comments from all stops in aggregate for moderation purposes, we kept the comments from each stop visible only at that stop.

We printed stickers promoting the website and fixed them to bus stops to emphasize the physical roots of the product, and to reach those outside of technology-watcher circles.

The Results

At launch we garnered attention from both local and national media, including the Globe & Mail, The Georgia Straight, 24 Hours, Vancouver is Awesome, CBC radio and television, blogs and Twitter. More importantly, we saw a surge of people from across the area begin to use the site, leaving overwhelmingly positive, funny, and often touching stories.

This Is Our Stop is best viewed on a modern smartphone and you’ll need the 5-digit number from a Translink bus stop to access the conversations there. If you’re not near a bus stop, try 50771. It’s one of our favourites.

We’ve also made this an open source project in the hope that people in other municipalities will fork it and experiment with making their own bus stops more social.

Visit This Is Our Stop

Services Used

Collaborators

Technology

Project Snapshots

Commenting Wireframe

A wireframe of the comments interface

Sam's Early Sketches

Early sketches from Sam's notebook.

Prototype

A prototype of the app brought key concepts to life.

A single stop with comments

A stop with comments.

Stop Location Wireframe

Stickers on a bus stop helped us reach the general public.

Experimental Notes

As a self-directed project, This Is Our Stop gave us a chance to explore several ideas around social software.

Impermanence Since city life changes daily, readers will only see posts from the last few days. In the background we’ll retain the full history of posted comments (except abusive ones) and make those available by API for those wanting to do a deep dive on a specific stop. We think this model keeps the expectations at a good level, and prompts for less self-conscious participation.

Identity Lite To avoid social network fatigue, we tossed out the idea of user accounts or unique identities. People can add a name to their posts, but someone else might use the same name. Very few sidewalk chalk artists sign their work, and we wanted this to have that same feeling of transience and low-commitment. You don’t sign your name or show ID to use a bus stop, which is part of its democratizing feel. We wanted to mirror that access in the app.

Hyper-local Conversations By limiting the views of conversations to the bus stop where those comments were left, we found that conversations stayed much more locally focussed, rather than becoming about the entire bus system. Combined with the real-time aspect of the comment model, we saw how a transit authority could turn it into a real-time customer service channel that keeps conversations about problems tied to the location they happen at. When conversations about service or maintenance problems are viewed in aggregate, they create an overly-negative picture that hyper-local service models can sidestep without hiding anything.

Technology Notes

Technologically, this is of course a web application that aims for speed and smooth interaction. We built on Node.js to explore the real-time possibilities of a conversation space spread out across thousands of points, and are pleased with how that turned out. If you’re looking at the comments on a stop you’ll see new comments pop up without refreshing, and in the background we have a page that lets us see comments from across the region.