In a victory for iPhone users who wanted to use a cool little app to check on MUNI related arrival times, Routesy, which was pulled from the iTunes App Store due to a bogus claim against it by some nefarious folks, is now back, and better than ever.
Now, the iPhone user can choose whatever app they think is best, in a truly competitive spirit. The story, and its aftermath, say a lot about MUNI, San Francisco, local media, and how some people can be good and some can be real jerks.
First, if you haven't already done so, go read the story at the San Francisco Appeal, which has the details on how data owned by MUNI is really MUNI's, people who are unecessary middlemen (and charlatans) can't extort money from people anymore, and those who did pay the extortion got nada as a result. (To quote Nelson, "Ha HA!") MUNI's new contract with The Real Next Bus makes sure that the MTA, and only the MTA owns the data generated by the taxpayer/rider funded Municipal Railway. Yay!
When this all broke (when the maker of Routesy made a routine update to the application, and the chaos ensued) I was finding out a lot of intel on the situation. Unfortunately, at the time, I couldn't take the days off of work I would have needed to write a complete story, with the level of detailed research one has to do to get this kind of story done right.
I wasn't comfortable just posting some quickie snarky post, because I didn't want to do a half-assed study of a complex subject, and post something that would be confusing or just plain wrong. But I also didn't want to let it fall by the wayside, a victim of budget cuts at newspapers or considered "unimportant" by deep thinking scribes who have better things to write about than San Francisco day-to-day issues.
That's why I contacted my friend Eve at the SF Appeal, which began covering this in June. I knew they'd do the story right, and I also knew they'd even bother to consider it as a potential story - most other local news entities wouldn't be interested, or wouldn't have the time. I was able to pass on the raw intel I'd collected, connect folks with them, and then let them figure out the details, whatever they ended up being (I just wanted to know what was up, and I didn't have a dog in the fight, so to say). They did a great job, and it's nice to se this thing called "actual reporting of news," regardless of whether the medium is a piece of paper or my web browser. (Check into that, old media.)
You can go there and read the June and August reports, and you'll quickly see that a poorly worded contract between the MTA and The Real Next Bus vendor led to this confusion in the first place - wording that has since been cleaned up. You'll also notice how incredibly f*cked the Apple iTunes store can be to developers - this is nothing new. Although there was a little help from the City Attorney's office, in the end, it took a pro bono lawyer helping out a guy who wouldn't get pushed around by a bunch of legalistic bullies at Fake Next Bus to get things done. In the end, we all won because the right of the public to freely access data generated by publicly funded entities was re-asserted.
Now that we've tipped hats to those worthy of tipping, it's time to wag the finger too. When this whole situation blew up, there was some help from the City Attorney's office. However, if City Attorney Dennis Herrera had used his office and clout to get behind this early on, it probably would have been solved sooner, and the public would have a win, and Herrera could have something he could tout in a future mayoral bid. Besides, his spokesman Matt Dorsey is cool, and it would have been totally boss if he was out there going medieval on our behalf (he's really good at that!).
Likewise, Mayor Newsom had another showboaty press conference about open access to public data, but on the one controversy that concerned this topic, he was oddly silent. That's either because he's completely clueless about the situation, or he just doesn't care about MUNI (like you have to guess which one it is?).
Either way, while he was off playing mayor/gubernatorial candidate for a few hours, when it mattered most, when a Mayor simply could have used the PR megaphone we're paying for, to you know, do something for us, he was off Twittering about Facebook friends or raising money for attack ads. Sigh.
With true competition amongst application developers, be they on iPhone, Android, Palm, or Blackberry, we win when people compete and the best product wins. The worst thing that happened though, was to see how quickly some people capitulated to Fake Next Bus's demands, either by killing off a cool product, or paying the extortion fee to get a monopoly for their product (albeit briefly).
Fortunately for us, this is all behind us, and anyone who wants to build a better app can do so, free of bullying legalistic threats. It's good to know that in a bad situation, some good people are willing to step up, and we all win in the end. Yay good people!
Finally, I'm bringing back an oldie but a goodie. Enjoy: