The makers of TruckChat say their phone app is "like having a free digital CB," but does it live up to that claim?
"Yes and no," says TeleType Chief Developer Edward Friedman. "The CB radio has a very small radius. In our case, we started with the whole country, and as the chats build up - and they’re already building up - we will cut it down into two pieces, then four pieces, and then we’ll make it a relatively small radius, maybe a couple hundred miles or maybe 500 miles for people to chat within the area where they are."
Boston-based Teletype is known for its WorldNav and SmatTruckRoute software.
Currently, several hundred truckers have downloaded the free service and Friedman expects thousands. "It's really building up fast," he says. "Every day I see that at least 50 more people have joined."
Just like CB radio, users can remain anonymous. "The unusual thing about this chat is that users don’t have to register. They don’t have to say their name. They don’t have to say their e-mail. They can create a handle; it’s totally anonymous." This gets around the barriers of other chat spaces, says Friedman. "This is really anonymous."
But unlike CB radio, the discourse remains more civil. "We have a dictionary that’s built into the chat, so if we see certain words coming up, we star them. If someone uses a four-letter word, it will just disappear." If someone continually abuses the system, the technology allows their phone to be locked out.
Because it's internet based, TruckChat allows drivers to communicate with others nearby or far away. The app knows the user's location and truckers can use it to post job offers, loads, traffic, truck stops, diesel, weather or any other relevant information. Users can post commercial and non-commercial items and there is no charge for the app or messages.
Because the service is text-based and texting is not allowed while driving, messages can be posted using the phone's microphone as well as typing. "We mainly expect truckers to use it while they're on their break," Friedman says.
Company officials got the idea for TruckChat at a trade show. "There was a nonprofit organization that came to us and said, 'Do you know there’s a lot of truck drivers that die on road and nobody knows about it? His wife calls, and he doesn’t respond. She doesn’t know where to look or what to do. She wants to have some kind of a CB so she can ask drivers all over the country: "If you see this particular truck, please check if he's okay.” That idea sat with us for a while until we finally got it out. Now this organization has access to the app and they can put out a missing driver alert."