The case of the disappearing APIs

I was intrigued by two sagas developing in the blogosphere, which encapsulated the bumpy journey towards open innovation in the transport market. The first was the story of Malcolm Barclay and how TfL (alledgedly!) killed two of his iPhone applications with a user base of 35-40k active users last week, by suspending the XML API on which they depend: London Bus (now called London Travel Deluxe) and London Tube Deluxe Pro for iPad. The API is currently restored and TfL maintain that the API was withdrawn as it was proving to be a security loop-hole. However, how long will it last ?

The timing was interesting, as it came about just as an application purporting to be TfL’s “official” journey planning application made it onto the app store, but only for one day, when it was subsequently pulled. The @MadProf is a member of London’s Digital Advisory Board and long-time proponent of open innovation tells the story in his blog and the subsequent post. Not seen a post yet giving any insight into whether this was indeed discussed at the last Digital Board meeting.

I came across the second emerging saga via @Paul_clarke on Twitter. This saga involves the second behemoth of the traveller information industry: ATOC or NRES (the Association of Train Operating Companies and their National Rail Enquiries Service). You can read this saga of the disappearing APIs in following blog post. NRES currently charge £4.99 for their official application on the UK iTune store.

There is, of course, a big difference between TfL and NRES. TfL are a public body and hence have been lent on heavily by the Greater London Authority with their datastore initiative. NRES are a private body and hence for them the choice of business model is commercial decision. There are pros and cons of embracing open innovation and according to the post above, their intentions appear to be much more financial in nature. The Chief Executive of NRES tells a different story in his blog in which he heralds initiatives such as NRES on Facebook.

If innovation is to flourish, it is essential that innovators and ther innovations are encouraged. I’ll be intrigued to watch this one play out …

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2 responses to “The case of the disappearing APIs

  1. I’d love to know what’s been going on inside TFL lately, particularly with regard to the briefly available official app. Some heated conversations I imagine! I still have the official app created by MDV on my phone, being one of the lucky few to download quickly, and find it a perplexing mix of interesting but half-baked ideas. It may simply have been withdrawn due to being patently not ready for release.

    Malcolm Barclay’s blogpost opens up an interesting discussion on the difference between data between freely available to independent developers and data being available free of charge. This a tricky topic for organisations such as TFL and NRE and has not yet been anywhere near resolved.

    As for NRE, I don’t believe they have an official iPhone app anymore. The very well designed and useful £4.99 app from Agant has been renamed ‘UK Train Times’. With big new releases from thetrainline and raileasy in the past fortnight the rail app market is really hotting up. I am intrigued to see if NRE themselves will re-enter the market with another new app and what it could possibly offer.

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