Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Metra Taking Over @metradelays and the Rest of the Twitter Delay Feeds

I set up the @metradelays service on Twitter a year ago to help commuters keep track of their train lines. The service received an overwhelmingly positive response and collected more than 1,000 followers across all lines. Better access to transit data was clearly a common need.

Last September, Metra redesigned their website; this had the side effect of breaking the Twitter feeds. Not finding myself with the free time to fix the service, the Twitter accounts have sat dormant for the past few months.

Fast forward to today, when Metra contacted me about taking control of the accounts. They are looking to provide service information across more outlets, and were interested in taking advantage of the Metra/Twitter accounts I set up. Since I still have no immediate plans to update the service, this seems like the best chance for all the @metradelays followers to start getting updates on Twitter again.

Here's hoping Metra builds us a great service!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Metra-Twitter Service Now Running on Google App Engine

When I first put together my Metra delay service on Twitter, I didn't think it would see a wide audience; I expected myself and maybe a few friends to take advantage of it. I certainly didn't foresee the media attention the feeds generated:

CBS2 Morning Show

Usage quickly spiked after these stories ran -- there are about 1200 people following the Metra feeds at this point. The only problem was that it was running on my personal computer. If I needed to reboot or experienced an internet outage, no updates were posted.

In an effort to make the service more robust, I decided to port to Google App Engine, which allows developers to create applications that run on Google infrastructure. App Engine has been around for about a year, but my Twitter app couldn't run there until a couple weeks ago, when the App Engine team unveiled Scheduled Tasks. This feature allows me to run my regular scans over Metra's delay info, and post the relevant material to Twitter.

All in all, porting to App Engine was a great experience. It's a very straightforward, developer-friendly environment, and I had fun doing it. And now I can turn off my computer again. :P