Jan 092017
 

For most of its existence, Uber hasn’t been shy about claiming to be at the forefront of the future of transport which fits into yesterday’s announcement of Uber Movement which promises to provide aggregated and anonymised trip data to give communities and businesses an overview of road usage in their districts.

Jordan Gilbertson,  one of the company’s Product Managers, and Andrew Salzberg, Head of Transportation Policy, described how Uber intends to make transit time data available.

Uber trips occur all over cities, so by analyzing a lot of trips over time, we can reliably estimate how long it takes to get from one area to another. Since Uber is available 24/7, we can compare travel conditions across different times of day, days of the week, or months of the year—and how travel times are impacted by big events, road closures or other things happening in a city.

As the Washington Post reports, transport agencies do already have a lot of data on some aspects of commuter behaviour – particularly public transport usage – and the Uber information fills as ‘missing part of the puzzle’.

Taxis and buses are also increasing equipped with real time tracking equipment that also gives this data while traffic services like Wayze have been collecting this information for a decade.

So agencies aren’t short of this data and the concentration of Uber’s customer base in more affluent areas means their information may be skewed away from poorer areas. Recently a Sydney taxi driver mentioned to me how he’d stopped driving for Uber because most of the city’s sprawling Western Suburbs where he tended to drive didn’t use the service.

Uber’s offer is another piece in their data strategy that sees the company being a data hub for the logistics industry. It also helps if you’ve co-opted governments into your scheme.

Jun 062016
 

Ben Terrett, the former head of design at the UK Government’s Digital Service, tells GovInsider why the agency banned mobile phone apps with the British taxpayers saving £4.1bn over the following four years.

Instead the GDS insisted agencies built responsive web sites so pages would adapt to the devices they were being read upon, saving time and money being devoted to developing and maintaining individual apps for different platforms.

Apps are “very expensive to produce, and they’re very very expensive to maintain because you have to keep updating them when there are software changes,” GovInsider quotes Terrett.

For those of us who worry about the increasingly siloed and proprietary nature of the internet, Terret’s story is very good news. Apps are particularly problematic as they stunt innovation, lock users into platforms and give those who control the App stores – mainly Apple and Google – massive market power.

It’s no co-incidence Facebook are currently in the process of restricting web access to their messenger service. Locking users into their app gives them far more power over users and much more control over their data.

On the other hand, the open web means sites are more accessible and not subject to the corporate whims of whoever controls a given silo. It also means that any data collected is far more likely to be commoditised, something Facebook hates.

That government agencies and large corporations are realising the costs, risks and value they are handing over the gatekeepers by developing apps is encouraging. It would be good if they considered the other downsides of giving the web over to a small clique of companies.

 

Mar 162016
 
Cisco networking head office

One of the things confronting technology vendors in the past five years has been the commoditization of hardware and the opening up of standards. As software has eaten the computer hardware industry, those companies are being forced to make their systems more open.

In that world of open systems, it’s the ecosystem of developers and products around platforms that drives success. The best example being the iPhone where the range of third party apps available made Apple’s product the most compelling on the market.

At Cisco Live in Melbourne last week Susie Wee, the company’s Vice President in charge of the company’s DevNet developer relations program, described how the networking company is opening their systems with Application Program Interfaces (APIs) to build an ecosystem.

“What we want to do is help people with this transition,” says Susie. “With the network, with the infrastructure and with the cloud we want people to get more out of it.”

Cisco, like most hardware companies, are finding the shift to opening their data streams to be wrenching. The business model of a decade ago involved mysterious black boxes running on proprietary software with the data dished out sparingly.

While the the ‘black boxes’ still remain, becoming a ‘platform’ and making data available to all comers is very much a cultural shift for once dominant hardware companies like Cisco.

The question for IT hardware companies is how long they can defend their proprietary software systems – the hardware side is already slowly declining as software defined equipment takes over – while establishing dominance with their software and data feeds.

Users too need to be treading carefully as those APIs and the data being fed through them is subject to the business imperatives of the

Cisco hopes they can achieve this through their current market power and business networks, it is a hard ask for them though. For the entire tech industry, the shift to an API driven marketplace is going to be testing.

Paul travelled to Cisco Live in Melbourne as a guest of Cisco

Apr 112015
 

One of the great strengths of the social and cloud business model was the idea of the open API, recent moves by Twitter and LinkedIn show that era might be coming to an end.

This week Nick Halstead, the founder and CEO of business intelligence service Datasift, bemoaned his company’s failure to negotiate an API access agreement with Twitter that restricts their ability to deliver insights to customers.

Earlier this year LinkedIn announced they would be restricting API access to all but “partnership integrations that we believe provide the most value to our members, developers and business.”

Monetizing APIs

Increasingly social media and web services companies are seeing access to APIs as being a revenue opportunity – something many of them are struggling to find – or as a way of building ‘strategic partnerships’ that will create their own walled gardens on the internet.

For developers this is irritating and for users it restricts the services and applications available but it may turn out to backfire on companies like LinkedIn and Twitter as closing down APIs opens opportunities for new platforms.

A few years ago industry pundits, like this blog, proclaimed open APIs will be a competitive advantage for online services. Now we’re about to find out how true that is.

One thing is for sure; many of the companies proclaiming their support for the ‘open internet’ are less free when it comes to allowing access to their own data.

Nov 092014
 
Smart rubbish bins in Barcelona

Last year Alicia Asin of Spanish sensor vendor Libelium spoke to this site about her vision of the internet of things improving transparency in society and government.

A good example of this democratisation of data was at the New South Wales Pearcey Awards last week where the state’s winners of the Young ICT Explorers competition were profiled.

Coming in equal first were a group of students from Neutral Bay’s state primary school with their Bin I.T project that monitors garbage levels in rubbish bins.

The kids built their project on an Arduino microcontroller that connects to a Google spreadsheet which displays the status of the bin in the school’s classrooms. For $80 they’ve created a small version of what the City of Barcelona is spending millions of Euro on.

With the accessibility of cheap sensors and cloud computing its possible for students, community groups and activists to take the monitoring of their environment into their own hands; no longer do people have to rely on government agencies or private companies to release information when they can collect it themselves.

Probably the best example of activists taking action themselves is the Safecast project which was born out of community suspicion of official radiation data following the Fukushima.

We can expect to see more communities following the Safecast model as concerns about the effects of mining, industrial and fracking operations on neighbourhoods grow.

The Bin I.T project and the kids of Neutral Bay Public School could be showing us where communities will be taking data into their own hands in the near future.