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Open Source Archive
Last week I reported that the New York City transit agency (that’s the MTA) launched their realtime bus tracker called BusTime in Brooklyn on the B63 route. BusTime allows you the ability to view estimated bus arrival times and get updates via text message. It’s a really cool service and shows where the MTA is headed in terms of technology.
This week the MTA created a developer site for use with BusTime. The BusTime service is opensource and the MTA IT team is welcoming developers to offer suggestions and code changes to make the system even stronger.
BusTime is powered by the One Bus Away open source software created by a team at the University of Washington.
There’s also a SIRI API that developers can use with the BusTime service. SIRI, or Service Interface for Real Time Information, is defined as, “an XML standard covering a wide range of types of real-time information for public transportation.”
It’s awesome to see how technology can make using public transit easier and more efficient for riders and for the organizations that manage the systems.
If you are a regular CN reader, you know that I am a railfan and a big fan of public transportation. We’ve covered real-time transit maps from around the world. My favorite up until today was the Swiss train map mashup — the map shows you where all of the trains in Switzerland are in real-time.
We’ve seen other cities including NYC, Boston and Philly get in on the real-time craze. NYC has a bus tracker on the M34 and M16 lines in midtown Manhattan and Philly is running a real-time test of a bus tracker.
Today, some developers in London, my second favorite transit system, launched a real-time transit tracker. The Google Maps mashup shows trains in the London Underground (also known as the Tube) in real-time. I’ve included a screenshot below. Yellow markers are stations and red markers are moving trains. Note that London’s transit system doesn’t run overnight so there won’t be any markers if you look during the overnight hours.
The code for the mashup is available as open source on GitHub. Here’s the overview of how the system works, “Live departure data is fetched from the TfL API, and then it does a bit of maths and magic. It’s surprisingly okay given this was done in only a few hours at Science Hackday and the many naming/location issues encountered, some unresolved. A small number of stations are misplaced or missing; occasional trains behave oddly; some H&C stations are missing in the TfL feed.”
It’s awesome to see so many transit systems embracing new technology and encouraging developers and entrepreneurs to get involved. Many of the world’s top transit systems seemed to move so slowly for decades but in the last 12-18 months, there has been a rapid pace to involve the local communities. This new London Underground real-time map is now my favorite Google Maps mashup – I hope one day we will see NYC host something similar.
Two weeks ago Google acquired the email search for the iPhone service reMail. Corsin provided a good history of the reMail service. Today founder Gabor Cselle has announced that the reMail service is now open source. Many users were upset when the reMail iPhone application was removed from the App Store shortly after the Google acquisition.
Gabor notes that he will be focusing on other projects at Google so it makes sense to open source reMail. The code is available on Google Code under the Apache 2.0 license.
Gabor notes, “As someone who is passionate about mobile email, my hope is that developers interested in making email-related apps can use reMail code as a starting point. Part of the reason email apps are hard is because you have to pay the tax of figuring out how to download email via IMAP, parse MIME messages, handle attachments, and store data. reMail has already solved these problems. If you have a great mobile email idea, I hope you will find reMail’s source code helpful in your quest.”
It seems a lot of the apps that Google acquires eventually become available as open source projects.
Twitter API lead Alex Payne has announced that the company is looking for people to be part of a beta test of the OAuth support for Twitter. OAuth is described as, "An open protocol to allow secure API authorization in a simple and standard method from desktop and web applications."
The real benefit is that users would no longer need to give third-party apps their username and password. Issues like we saw with TWPLY wouldn’t happen again.
Payne notes, "In the closed beta period, participants will be able to create and manage an unlimited number of OAuth applications. Any user will able to access these applications, but only participants will be able to create them. More documentation forthcoming."
There has been a lot of talk from developers who want to see Twitter support the protocol. No word has been provided on how long the beta period will last or how many beta participants will be accepted.
Update: Well that was quick. The beta application period is closed due to overwhelming response.
Yesterday I wrote about the issue of vendor lock-in regarding cloud-based services and how I think developers should think about it. In that discussion, I touched on the open source strategy of cloud computing company 10Gen. After thinking about it I begin to believe that such a strategy may be a serious liability for cloud-based services.
Then, this morning I read an article By Nick Carr where he discussed the significance of open source to buyers. His thesis is that what is most important are the meat and potatoes issues around reliability security, etc. Specifically, Carr says:
We can (and will) have debates about the relative openness of Azure and AWS and Force.com and all the other "cloud platforms" that are available or will be available. And those will be important debates. But in this early stage of the cloud’s development, openness means little to the buyer (or user). The buyers, particularly those in big companies, are nervous about the cloud even as they are becoming increasingly eager to reap the benefits the cloud can provide. What they care about right now is security, reliability, features, compatibility with their existing systems and applications, ease of adoption, stability of the vendor, and other practical concerns. In the long run, they may come to regret their lack of stress on openness, but in the here-and-now it’s just not a major consideration. They want stuff that works and won’t blow up in their faces.
This is very much in line with my thinking from yesterday. Azure is a big deal. No one is going to care about the fact that it is not open source. Basic hosting is going to become a commodity business very quickly, with Microsoft, Amazon, and Google (MAG) competing in the game of creating highly scalable services that use traditional development methodologies. Microsoft is now ahead in that game from a technology perspective. Amazon is ahead in customers, and Google, for now, is left in the dust but can obviously catch up. But I don’t see any of these guys making any of their cloud technology open source, and I don’t think it matters.
I liken open source in this space to DRM in the music business. Its one of those things that a small number of people complain about but will later be proven totally irrelevant to the rank and file buyer. We now have statistics to prove that DRM was irrelevant in terms of sales, and we are beginning to see the outlines of the irrelevancy of openness in the cloud.
The real issue here is that small companies are not going to be able to compete selling basic “get your applications into the cloud” type services. MAG is going to own that business. I think that 10Gen and other companies providing baseline services are going to have a rough time playing that game.
Startups who wish to compete in the cloud business will have to provide great value added services that facilitate unique new application categories sitting on top of one or more of the MAG clouds. The services will have to be hard to copy and/or narrow enough to not attract the attention of MAG.
Given the need to innovate in some unique way, and the need to be interoperable with MAG clouds, I am not at all clear how you can create innovate cloud platform services using an open source business model in a money making way. Being open source in this space is akin to what it might be like if Apple made OSX open source and optimized it to run on standard Intel PCs. Good karma perhaps. Good profits, not so much.
Of course many open source businesses hang their hat on services, consulting and support. I personally hate time and materials type businesses masquerading as scalable software businesses, but my opinions aside, these are by and large tough businesses to succeed at.
In short, while being open source may be politically correct, I fear it may be a grave hindrance towards providing a defensible, unique, money-making offering in the cloud.
This article was authored by Hank Williams who is a New York-based entrepreneur who explores the tech marketplace from 10,000 feet at Why Does Everything Suck?.
NY-based BricaBox which closed its doors last month, is now back as an open source platform. CEO Nate Westhimer explains, "I’ve heard from a number of people that open sourcing — or "freeing" — the code would be a good way to let the dream live on. After speaking with with several folks in the open source and free software communities, I believe this is the right thing to do."
Nate is now looking for developers to help with the forward progress of open sourcing the BricaBox code. I need to be honest here. I don’t think this is a wise move. First, Nate has already moved on and will he really want to be attached to BricaBox going forward? Second, was the application ever really finished? Nate shared the lessons he learned by running BricaBox and that should have been the end of it – or perhaps a full sale of IP and domain. What I think would have made sense is to offer code snippets that developers could use in their applications like the Google Maps mashup, etc.