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I’m working on some more stories around municipal data APIs, based upon two stories I found recently, where developers took it upon themselves to scrape data, launch APIs, and build mobile tools around local municipal transit data:

  • Madison Transit API - Greg Tracy of Madison, WI has a great story on his journey to build a simple SMS app and ended building an entire API.  Greg wanted an SMS app that could deliver real-time arrival estimates, to meet his needs as a commuter.  After much pain scraping the Madison Transit site for data, he felt he should prevent others from having to do the same, and published an API around his data.  But Greg also wanted to find a way to contribute to the larger mission of opening up a public dataset to make it more accessible, opening up opportunities for his communities to operate more efficiently.
  • Swedish Train API - Erik Pettersson did the same thing in Sweden.  In his frequent travels as a freelancer, Erik was frustrated by the lack of information available, leaving him often sitting at a station wondering when the next train was.  From this frustration, Erik created a simple SMS service where travelers can text their train number, and receive updates on delayed arrivals, departures or even track changes at given stations.  His data was scraped from the Swedish Transport Administration, and in a year of operation, the API has spawned other applications for iOS, Android and Windows Mobile.  

I still haven't fully flushed out my stories around both these municipal APIs, but it sure smells like an opportunity for some tech companies to get involved.  You a captured audience of commuters across the globe, needing more information about their daily bus, train and subway.  This need is so great, tech savvy commuters are scraping and building their own systems to meet this need.  

I know Google is stepping up to serve this space with Google Maps and Google Transit.  They even have released the General Transit Feed Specification, to help define a common format for public transportation schedules and associated geographic information.  But I think their are huge opportunities for companies to step up and coordinate transit APIs, at the country or regional level, and also for developers to provide local resources for "acquiring" of local data, understanding local constraints, and be the overall contact for a specific locale.

With a clear problem defined, a captured audience rapidly adopting mobile technology, and a developer resource that is willing to invest time and resources to build out APIs, mobile and web apps, and create data visualizations--it just seems like an API industry that is in need of some leadership and coordination.

Do you know of other municipal data API stories?  Let me know.




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