Posts Tagged ‘Gowalla’

When I travel by train my goal is not necessarily to “get there”.  My goal is to enjoy the entire trip.  For me it’s a way to decompress after a busy week, relax with a book or note pad and to take in the scenery.   It is complete stress-free travel.

Because travel by train takes more time than air travel and there’s plenty of space to move around (dining car, cafe car and observation car), train travel is inherently more social.  Dinner in the dining car is “communal seating” – so one is seated at a table with others from various cars on the train.  Conversation can be a breeze or somewhat laborious, depending upon the group.  Similarly so with the group seating in the observation car

So, while in DC I had an idea – it’s not a unique concept, but one I thought might be worth a shot.  What if I could find others on my train, the 29 Capitol Limited (westbound) who might be interested in socializing, prior to boarding the train?  If, for example, I were to discover that someone from my age group or social demographic were to be on the same train, maybe we could coordinate a dinner time together.  Maybe three or four of us (more would be even better) could plan to meet up for a glass of wine in the observation car.

With this in mind I created a FaceBook event for my train leaving DC and I sent the invite out via Twitter.  I also included @Amtrak in the tweet to see if Amtrak would re-tweet the event.  My goal was multifold;  first to see who might be attuned to such media, second to see if anyone would join the “event” and lastly, to determine if I might learn something from this.  Now certainly just one attempt at an on-line social meet up is not nearly enough evidence to model a media policy, but it is interesting to ponder.

To be fair (as one could be) I also downloaded FourSquare, the location-based mobile app that permits it’s users to “check in” at various venues.   Using this app I thought I might find some other social media users who might be off the FaceBook grid.  While a FaceBook event is rather limited in scope – one would have to know it exists to attend, FourSquare uses existing venues then allows visitors to state that they’re there.  There are other such apps such as Gowalla.

The experiment attracted no one.  Twitter didn’t attract any shout-outs from other passengers on the train and Amtrak didn’t retweet the post.  The FaceBook event didn’t add any attendees nor did I find anyone listed on FourSquare who was on my train that day.

Is this unusual?  Probably not.  Amtrak’s passengers tend to be (at least from what I’ve seen) the earliest Boomers who have not grown up with gadgetry, geocoding and multi-media methods of introduction.  Perhaps its Amtrak’s Acela service that has a younger, hipper base considering its destinations and frequency.

As the Boomer segment of Amtrak’s ridership begins to diminish through attrition, attracting new riders becomes a priority.  So… why not leverage the social nature of train travel and “put it out there” into the new interactive world of engagement. 

Amtrak’s observation cars have service bars in them, though I’ve never seen one staffed.  There is however, space for ice and bottled drinks and with the right bar tender, the observation car could take on a nifty air of the cocktail lounge for the rail-riding set.

It may be next to impossible for a government agency such as Amtrak to set aside the labor to create a daily roster of departures and “invitations” – or could it be a good idea in the short-term?  Enough so to start a trend or enough so that it’s actually a low-cost advertising tool?  Enough perhaps, to reintroduce rail travel as an alluring alternative?  Could Amtrak benefit by becoming a FourSquare “venue owner”?

I’ll continue with my social experiments aboard Amtrak as I travel in the coming months and we’ll see what happens.  In all likelihood, I’ll become the Mayor of the Cleveland Amtrak station in no time.

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