Although each tweet is only 140 characters, the microblogging messages can speak volumes when used by public agencies. Recently the U.S. DOT (@USDOT) began tweeting. For many transportation departments across the country, Twitter has already become old hat for reporting traffic and road construction updates and raising awareness about issues such as drunk driving or sandstorms (which you can read about in our October issue.)

Chicago’s Chief Technology Officer John Tolva plans to take the social media tool to a new level by turning it into a citywide suggestion box. To do this, the city built a system that parses Chicago geolocated tweets. Once the tweets are found, the program searches for certain keywords such as “L” or “Purple Line,” and then reviews tweets that match the keywords. An example tweet could be something like “This blue line car stinks!” or “A tree fell on the orange line tracks.” The ultimate goal, says Tolva, is to get the system to the point where it can review the tweets automatically, instead of city staff having to review and search themselves.

How is your department using Twitter? Tell us about it by sending a tweet to @pwmag.