Boris’s Bikes and Open Data

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Creative Commons License photo credit: Charlotte Gilhooly

I’m an early adopter, or possibly a serial alpha tester. I’m always willing to give something new a go, especially when it comes to new ways to get around my city, London. I was first off the block to get an Oyster card – a fantastic innovation that has transformed Tube and Bus travel, in my opinion. I was an early customer of the “OnePulse” combined Oyster-Visa-contactless payment card – less than fantastic, but that’s the subject of another post. So it should come as no surprise that I was one of the first to sign up for the new “Cycle Hire” scheme in London – cheerily called “Boris’s Bikes” by the press. (Us Londoners know they’re really Ken’s bikes but “Ken’s Bikes” suffers from a lack of aliteration so “Boris’s Bikes” it is.)

They probably had enough work to do just launching the service and getting basic e-commerce systems up and running to worry about mobile app development and I’m aso guessing they didn’t have the expertise in house (though that’s just a guess). Many companies and organizations launching new services, particularly in government, might be in similar situations. They could have decided to bag mobile all together, but that would have been shortsighted. Clearly, this is a service that needed a mobile component.  So, as reported in the Guardian, TFL decided not to roll their own mobile app associated with the service but rather opened the field up budding mobile developers. They did so by releasing their data as an API to the developer community and seeing what emerged. And what emerged was a host of mobile applications, some of which have been reported on in the Londonist and CNet UK.

To guide me on my (so-far) three cycle hire journeys, I’ve used the Android Cycle Hire Widget by Little Fluffy Toys. It gives you instant feedback on your home screen on the location, direction and status of the 3 nearest docking stations: invaluable information at the beginning and end of your journey. (I’m also glad to report that we will be featuring a session from Little Fluffy Toys at this year’s Over the Air on how they built that app.)

The main take-away here is that by opening up their data through an API, TFL enabled a market to develop around how to best visualize and package that data for mobile use. And what we’ve seen emerge so far is only the tip of the iceberg. I fully expect to see mashups and other creative uses of that data in the near future.

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3 comments on “Boris’s Bikes and Open Data
  1. Kenton Price says:

    The problem is, the realtime availability API isn’t open. We’re all screenscraping the TFL website, possibly illegally. Right now Cycle Hire Widget is suffering a downtime (looks like it’s probably our fault, but it wouldn’t be if we were taking their data directly). Until we have an official data feed, it’s all held together with bits of string. I don’t know how to get in touch with TFL – it’s a one-way broadcast-from-on-high relationship with them. If you want to campaign to force their hand on the realtime API, please do :)

  2. Oh! Well, serves me right for assuming the best, I suppose. Maybe we can get some from TfL along to Over the Air and have a talk with them about it. Leave it with me.

  3. Kai Hendry says:

    Typo there with “reportted in the Guardian” btw.

    I’m looking for a sane API to use with W3C Geolocation. I have not been able to find an API that can simply return the 5 closest stations given a point.

    This strikes me as a bit crazy. Sorry Dan, I refuse to use heavyweight Java widget. :P

    Example of closest wikipedia entries: http://geo.webvm.net/wikipedia/

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