Re: Using NextBus realtime data: what are your experiences?

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Joe Hughes

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Sep 30, 2008, 2:27:29 PM9/30/08
to Transit Developers
As an update, Alex Orloff from NextBus Information Systems contacted
me off-list about this post, so I'd like to clarify that this mailing
list is unaffiliated with Google, and that when I post to it, I'm
speaking in my personal capacity as a developer who wants to help
improve the lives of transit riders, rather than making statements
about Google policy.

I also invited him to join the conversation here, as it would be great
to get more insight into how NextBus regards these third-party
development efforts.

Joe

On Sep 27, 3:54 pm, Joe Hughes <joe.hughes.c...@gmail.com> wrote:
> NextBus's real-time arrival information is incredibly useful in San
> Francisco (and several other places), but NextBus has often given out
> mixed messages about whether others can use this real-time
> information. They've left several apps alone, but they've
> occasionally threatened others. I thought it would be handy to
> compare notes on our experiences.
>
> First of all, here some ways that you can get NextBus information, all
> of them at best semi-legit:
>
> 1) The XML output that's used by the NextBus Google Maps mashup. This
> has been unofficially documented by a few bloggers:http://blog.case.edu/gps10/2006/01/30/debugging_nextbushttp://www.joegratz.net/archives/2007/03/05/nextbus-python-script/
> It's worth mentioning that the output contains the string "All data
> copyright NextBus 2008. Allowed use is for noncommercial purposes
> only.", seemingly giving tacit permission for some uses.
>
> 2) Aaron Antrim's XML feed that he built for the Bay Crossings
> informational displays, previously discussed on this list:http://groups.google.com/group/transit-developers/browse_frm/thread/f...
>
> 3) Scraping the desktop or mobile website HTML.
>
> Here are the sites/apps that I know use NextBus information in some
> form:
>
> * Routesy (iPhone/iPod app)
> Site:http://www.routesy.com/
> iTunes link:http://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewSoftware?id=284...
> This was created by Steven Peterson, who sold it for a few dollars at
> the start of the app store. According to his Twitter posts, he
> recently received a legal threat from NextBus, and changed the price
> to free in response:http://twitter.com/squeakytoy/statuses/918522737http://twitter.com/squeakytoy/statuses/918651939
>
> * MuniRiders.net
> This is an SMS interface to NextBus Muni data built by Robert Dampho.
> According to the website, "Data for the bus map is gathered fromwww.nextmuni.comand the TXT service is now hosted bywww.nextbus.com
> following an agreement made after a dispute over data licensing."
>
> * Message Muni
> Another SMS interface, put together by John Vollmer. Slides here:http://jvollmer.org/messagemuni/
>
> * MuniTime.com, MoMuni.com
> These are a couple of iPhone-optimized web-based UIs for the NextBus
> data, apparently still in operation.
>
> * iNextMunihttp://retrovirus.com/inextmuni
> This was a little hack that I put together for personal use when I
> first got my iPhone. I just scraped the NextBus mobile web UI and
> gave the info an iUI iPhone style sheet.
>
> I'm sure I missed some, so please chime in if you know of others.
>
> Now, I should mention that there are actually two separate NextBus
> companies, "NextBus, Inc." (http://www.nextbus.com) and "NextBus
> Information Systems, LLC" (http://nextbusinformationsystems.com/).
> It's confusing, because they tend to use the same name and logo.
> However, it's my impression that the latter is usually the one sending
> takedowns, since their purpose in life seems to be to monetize this
> information. The former company is the one that puts the hardware on
> the buses and keeps things running. Mike Smith, the engineering
> director of NextBus, Inc., gave a presentation at the first
> TransitCampBayArea where he encouraged developers to lobby for the
> NextBus arrival information:http://headwayblog.com/2008/03/03/transit-camp-bay-area-report/
>
> So, what are your experiences dealing with NextBus? Have you built an
> app that uses their data, and if so, what source do you use? Have you
> gotten hassled about it?
>
> Joe
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Jehiah Czebotar

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Sep 30, 2008, 3:50:05 PM9/30/08
to transit-d...@googlegroups.com
On Tue, Sep 30, 2008 at 2:46 PM, aor...@nextbusinformationsystems.com
<aor...@nextbusinformationsystems.com> wrote:
>
> I believe that scraping copyrighted data and setting up your own
> application which publishes it, whether from Google or another
> company, is likely to be a violation of copyright. If you grab a
> single instance of data, or use historical data, you can probably call
> it fair use, but setting up your own application which publishes
> copyrighted data that others produce tends not to be fair use.

while i believe that scraping schedule data is not the best solution,
and I am personally working hard to help promote open gtfs feeds (and
transit data in general), i do not think there is always an issue of
copyright.

In the same way that phonebook information can not be copyrighted, and
similarly store prices from advertisements can't be copyrighted, facts
are facts and not copyrightable. What is copyrightable (and perhaps
patentable) is a specific format for displaying schedule data, but the
information itself (ie: when a train is scheduled to leave) is a fact,
and not copyrightable.

That said, IANAL, and my comments do not address possible acceptable
use policies or EULA's.

There is also the issue of much data available from public agencies
being in the public domain (And often available under FOIA or similar
requests). That doesn't apply in the case of NextBus, but does apply
to most public agencies.

just my 2 cents.

> should the community be encouraged to
> scrape that data from Google transit and provide it to one another
> regardless of whether the transit agency has sanctioned this ?

somewhat; we should push to get more gtfs feeds available publicly;
official or unofficial... BUT we should aim to get it from the source
if possible, not 2nd or 3rd hand.

--
Jehiah

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Joe Hughes

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Sep 30, 2008, 5:19:48 PM9/30/08
to Transit Developers
Hi Alex, good to hear from you.

My intent was not to encourage or condone any particular behavior, but
merely to recap what various developers have done in the past, in an
attempt to help inform the discussion. There are a people from a lot
of different groups on this list, and my hope is that everyone will
come away with a better understanding of the landscape and of each
others' points of view. I'm happy that you're taking the time to give
us more insight into where you're coming from.

Could you shed more light on what happened in the cases of Routesy and
Muniriders.net? These two concrete cases are interesting from a
developer standpoint because they're applications that continue to
exist in some form after NextBus officially interacted with their
developers.

Also, could you help explain the relationships between Muni, NextBus,
Inc., and NextBus Information Systems? There's a lot of confusion
around this, and I suspect that you may be able to do this situation
more justice than I did in my original post.

Thanks,
Joe

On Sep 30, 11:46 am, "aorl...@nextbusinformationsystems.com"
<aorl...@nextbusinformationsystems.com> wrote:
> I believe that scraping copyrighted data and setting up your own
> application which publishes it, whether from Google or another
> company, is likely to be a violation of copyright. If you grab a
> single instance of data, or use historical data, you can probably call
> it fair use, but setting up your own application which publishes
> copyrighted data that others produce tends not to be fair use.
>
> Here's a thought experiment Joe. How would Google feel if I, in my
> personal time, scrape the transit feeds in GTFS format that agencies
> have not made available, from Google Transit, and put them up for
> developers on this list to use. Would that be "semi-legit" - or would
> that cause Google somewhat an uncomfortable situation ? I believe
> that there was a recent post asking about when the NY transit feed
> would be made available... should the community be encouraged to
> scrape that data from Google transit and provide it to one another
> regardless of whether the transit agency has sanctioned this ?
>
> I suppose I should note that I am posting as an individual as well.
> I'm curious how you view the above situation - should the community
> that reads this discussion group be encouraged to make unavailable
> GTFS feeds available to each other by scraping Google Transit ?
>
> alex
>
> On Sep 30, 11:27 am, Joe Hughes <joe.hughes.c...@gmail.com> wrote:
>
> > As an update, Alex Orloff from NextBus Information Systems contacted
> > me off-list about this post, so I'd like to clarify that this mailing
> > list is unaffiliated with Google, and that when I post to it, I'm
> > speaking in my personal capacity as a developer who wants to help
> > improve the lives of transit riders, rather than making statements
> > about Google policy.
>
> > I also invited him to join the conversation here, as it would be great
> > to get more insight into how NextBus regards these third-party
> > development efforts.
>
> > Joe
>
> > On Sep 27, 3:54 pm, Joe Hughes <joe.hughes.c...@gmail.com> wrote:
>
> > > NextBus's real-time arrival information is incredibly useful in San
> > > Francisco (and several other places), but NextBus has often given out
> > > mixed messages about whether others can use this real-time
> > > information. They've left several apps alone, but they've
> > > occasionally threatened others. I thought it would be handy to
> > > compare notes on our experiences.
>
> > > First of all, here some ways that you can get NextBus information, all
> > > of them at best semi-legit:
>
> > > 1) The XML output that's used by the NextBus Google Maps mashup. This
> > > has been unofficially documented by a few bloggers:http://blog.case.edu/gps10/2006/01/30/debugging_nextbushttp://www.joe...
> > > It's worth mentioning that the output contains the string "All data
> > > copyright NextBus 2008. Allowed use is for noncommercial purposes
> > > only.", seemingly giving tacit permission for some uses.
>
> > > 2) Aaron Antrim's XML feed that he built for the Bay Crossings
> > > informational displays, previously discussed on this list:http://groups.google.com/group/transit-developers/browse_frm/thread/f...
>
> > > 3) Scraping the desktop or mobile website HTML.
>
> > > Here are the sites/apps that I know use NextBus information in some
> > > form:
>
> > > * Routesy (iPhone/iPod app)
> > > Site:http://www.routesy.com/
> > > iTunes link:http://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewSoftware?id=284...
> > > This was created by Steven Peterson, who sold it for a few dollars at
> > > the start of the app store. According to his Twitter posts, he
> > > recently received a legal threat from NextBus, and changed the price
> > > to free in response:http://twitter.com/squeakytoy/statuses/918522737http://twitter.com/sq...
>
> > > * MuniRiders.net
> > > This is an SMS interface to NextBus Muni data built by Robert Dampho.
> > > According to the website, "Data for the bus map is gathered fromwww.nextmuni.comandtheTXT service is now hosted bywww.nextbus.com

Michael Smith

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Oct 1, 2008, 1:03:16 AM10/1/08
to transit-d...@googlegroups.com
I just want to make sure there is no confusion by reiterating Joe's
earlier point that "NextBus Information Systems" is a different entity
than "NextBus Inc". It is NextBus Inc that has the contracts with the
transit agencies and generates the real-time arrival predictions and
publishes the information on the web.

Michael Smith
Director of Engineering
NextBus

Robert

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Oct 1, 2008, 1:10:59 PM10/1/08
to Transit Developers
Hi Joe, thanks for getting this rolling.

Here is the story per muniriders.net:

As stated above, I started a SMS message service which pulls NextBus
data from their XML feed and makes it easily available via a text
message query. I used www.textmarks.com as a way for users to send an
SMS to my service. I had created e-mail address based SMS services in
the past and found them to be problematic.

Using Text Marks was the crux of my debate with NextBus. Alex
contacted me and gave me an expected spiel about my copyright
violations. From there he contacted TextMarks. TextMarks includes
advertising in their messages, so my "stolen" copyrighted NextBus data
was within the profit scope of TextMarks, which has legal
ramifications blah blah. TextMarks was going to remove my account
because of this.

At this point I talked with Alex and reached an agreement where I
licensed my code for the SMS service as GPL, and it is now running on
a NextBus server.

From the standpoint of a user, this worked out well because the
service continues to function. From my viewpoint as a developer, this
is a disappointment because I can no longer develop this service.

Please see my website for details on how the SMS service works. You
just give it an intersection (or any address) and it returns arrival
times for nearby bus lines:

http://muniriders.net/txt/

So that's the story. As a side note, the SMS service was created
because iPhones are great, but (almost) everyone can use SMS.

Brian Ferris

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Oct 1, 2008, 1:29:31 PM10/1/08
to transit-d...@googlegroups.com
Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems to me that NextBus Inc's primary funding mechanism is transit agencies.  Could a forward looking transit agency request in their contract that real-time arrival information be published with a public API for general use?  Considering NextBus is being funded by the transit agency and not by advertising revenue, NextBus Inc. doesn't lose much in this case.

Brian Ferris
http://onebusaway.org/

On Tue, Sep 30, 2008 at 2:09 PM, aor...@nextbusinformationsystems.com <aor...@nextbusinformationsystems.com> wrote:

I think you made a good point Jehiah - facts are not copyrightable.
But transit arrival predictions are not facts, and as you said, your
argument "doesn't apply in the case of NextBus."

The data contained in the GTFS feeds used in Google Transit, however,
are facts, and are publicly available elsewhere (already in the public
domain as you put it) - namely, the published transit schedule.

alex

On Sep 30, 12:50 pm, "Jehiah Czebotar" <jeh...@gmail.com> wrote:
> On Tue, Sep 30, 2008 at 2:46 PM, aorl...@nextbusinformationsystems.com

Michael Smith

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Oct 1, 2008, 4:12:53 PM10/1/08
to transit-d...@googlegroups.com
Yes, NextBus Inc is funded by transit agencies, and yes, they can
require pretty much anything they want to, including providing a
publicly accessible feed. Unfortunately several are actually considering
requiring making accessing such data more difficult (due to perceived
data security issues and due to the data potentially making them look bad).

Mike


Brian Ferris wrote:
> Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems to me that NextBus Inc's primary
> funding mechanism is transit agencies. Could a forward looking
> transit agency request in their contract that real-time arrival
> information be published with a public API for general use?
> Considering NextBus is being funded by the transit agency and not by
> advertising revenue, NextBus Inc. doesn't lose much in this case.
>
> Brian Ferris
> http://onebusaway.org/
>
> On Tue, Sep 30, 2008 at 2:09 PM, aor...@nextbusinformationsystems.com

> <mailto:aor...@nextbusinformationsystems.com>
> <aor...@nextbusinformationsystems.com

> <mailto:aor...@nextbusinformationsystems.com>> wrote:
>
>
> I think you made a good point Jehiah - facts are not copyrightable.
> But transit arrival predictions are not facts, and as you said, your
> argument "doesn't apply in the case of NextBus."
>
> The data contained in the GTFS feeds used in Google Transit, however,
> are facts, and are publicly available elsewhere (already in the public
> domain as you put it) - namely, the published transit schedule.
>
> alex
>
> On Sep 30, 12:50 pm, "Jehiah Czebotar" <jeh...@gmail.com

> <mailto:jeh...@gmail.com>> wrote:
> > On Tue, Sep 30, 2008 at 2:46 PM,
> aorl...@nextbusinformationsystems.com

> <mailto:aorl...@nextbusinformationsystems.com>
> >
> > <aorl...@nextbusinformationsystems.com

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