By Tim Carman | WashingtonPost.com
Had I really been jonesing for a slice from DC Slices, I might have been compelled to navigate to theTruckToMe page on the App Store of my iPhone and leave the kind of withering review that curls the toes of young developers.
But I wasn’t really jonesing for a pie. I was just testing the new TruckToMe app, which follows more than 100 D.C. area food trucks on Twitter.
Here was the scenario Wednesday afternoon: I fired up TruckToMe, and the app indicated that three vendors (DC Slices, Tasty Kabob andPhoWheels) were awaiting me on Franklin Square. When I arrived, DC Slices was nowhere to be found (except on my phone, which continued to tell me the truck was somewhere on the square), but eight other vehicles were hawking food, including Sang on Wheels , DC Ballers and Fasika Ethiopian Cuisine.
So where was DC Slices? According to its Twitter feed, the truck was at two locations yesterday, neither of them called Franklin Square.
A day earlier, I ran into a similar situation on Farragut Square: TruckToMe noted that two operators were vending on the popular downtown destination for mobile food vendors. I knew better. When I arrived, 11 trucks were parked around the square, serving everything from Vietnamese pho, Philadelphia cheesesteaks and Italian subs.
So how can TruckToMe be so off?
Before I speculate on this issue, allow me to offer some words of encouragement: TruckToMe, designed by Phoenix4 Software, has an elegantly simple interface with a built-in GPS system that tells you exactly how far you are from your favorite food trucks. For a city with a constant influx of newcomers unfamiliar with the terrain, this is a valuable tool, far superior to the cluttered D.C. map found on Food Truck Fiesta (which doesn’t even render on my iPhone, even after I downloaded a mobile version).
The problem with TruckToMe, however, is that it relies on the kindness of food trucks to signal their locations. As TTM notes on its Web site, the app “follows the Twitter handles of over 100 Washington-DC area food trucks, and watches for tweets tagged in specific locations or mentions of popular DC food truck spots such as Farragut Square and Union Station.”
“If you’d like to help us out, make sure to always tag your location when tweeting from a mobile device,” the site continues. “That way, we’ll know exactly where you are!”
Well, as a business model, that’s a cheap way to collect information. It’s also as efficient as relying on wind and sails to power your Range Rover. Truck owners might have a vested interest in tagging their locations for TruckToMe’s benefit, but in the hectic, up-at-dawn world of mobile vendors, their first priority is prepping, cooking and securing a good parking spot. It’s not remembering to tag their location.
Besides as more than one operator has told me, Twitter followings have leveled out for a number of food trucks. Hungry customers often just flock to popular locations, rather than check Twitter feeds. In other words, food trucks seem to have less motivation, not more, to maintain their Twitter accounts on a daily basis.
This would not seem to bode well for a passive app like TruckToMe.