Announcing Brief Encounters: mySociety’s first Prequel Site

FixMyTransport is the most challenging project mySociety has ever tried to build. It’s so ambitious that we’re taking the unusual move of breaking off part of the problem and stress-testing it in the form of the new mini-site Brief Encounters, which has gone live today. It was built by Louise Crow, or Crowbot, as we know her, with design support from Dave Whiteland.

Brief Encounters is not, as the name might suggest, mySociety’s long awaited attempt at a dating site. Instead it’s a place where people can share whimsical stories about unusual things that happened them them, or other people, on public transport. We hope you’ll have a go, read some examples and then contribute your own.

You might be thinking that a whimsical story site doesn’t sound very mySocietyish – and you’d be right. Brief Encounters is actually a technology test-bed to help us crack a new design and data problem: how do you make it as easy as possible for users to pinpoint a specific bus stop, or train route, or a ferry port, as easily as possible? There are over 300,000 such beasties, and nobody has ever really tried to build an interface that makes it easy to find each one quickly and reliably.

So, what we want from you, dear readers, is three fold. We want:

  1. Stories – the more hilarious or sob-inducing the better
  2. Feedback on the user experience – how can we make finding a route or node easier?
  3. Feedback on any data problems you find, ie “My bus stop is missing” – we’re going to have to patch our data with your help, there’s just no other way

For those of you tech minded, the project is built in Ruby and uses the NaPTAN dataset of stations, bus stops and ferry terminals, the National Public Transport Gazetteer database of towns and settlements in the UK, and the National Public Transport Data Repository of sample public transport journeys, from 2008. The first two datasets are free of charge, and the third one mySociety pays for.

Lastly, kudos must go to the hyper-imaginative Nicky Getgood who suggested we collect stories on FixMyTransport, as well as problem reports.

2 Comments

  1. I just wondered – is there any way to feed in travel stories or observations? I usually talk about what’s going on around me on Twitter, would it be possible to contribute to Brief Encounters via a bespoke hashtag or something? Could be geotagged for location. See @benjionthetrain for the very best in Twitter travel tails. :-)