“Language is such a tricky thing,” NextBus Information Systems COO Alex Orloff emailed us today. It was certainly surreal to hear semantic philosophy coming from the mouth of the man confirmed to have killed off least two (Are there more? Let us know) Muni realtime arrival applications, claiming that the information used to make those predictions belonged to his company, NextBus Information Systems. Which, it turns out, is not the case. It belongs to us.

After an Appeal reader sent an email (CCing us) to Orloff asking him about his company’s actions, Orloff sent this response:

I would say that this article contains some accurate information, and quite a bit of inaccurate information. If it weren’t smothered in innuendo and built with an obvious slant, or if I was contacted to comment as other interested and worthy news organizations have in the last few days since Peterson began working on a media trial, I would be inclined to give more of my time to an answer.

Alex is right — we didn’t go to him for comment. (In part because we were already in posession of tons of Alex’s emailed comments to San Franciscans who tried to use NextBus’ data.) So, we emailed him back, asking if he disputes his quotes, if his position has changed since he said them, and what he plans on doing now that SFMTA has asserted public ownership of NextBus arrival times. Orloff responded:

You write in paragraph 2 “In other words: this company says that the NextBus predictions generated by Muni — a public agency, owned by San Franciscans…” — does Muni generate the predictions or does NextBus? You seem a bit confused on how this works.
You include a link to a PDF of a public reporting document (I think its a 2004 MD&A from GIS) and an excerpt that typically appears in the GIS MD&A at the end of each quarter and cite these as the franchise agreement between NextBus and NBIS. This excerpt and the document are not the franchise agreement, they merely reference the franchise agreement.
After this citation, you ask “But were those rights Grey Island’s to promise to NBIS ?” Were they, or were the rights retained by NBIS in the sale of certain assets to Grey Island as part of the transaction that created NextBus Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of GIS ? Recall that prior to this transaction NextBus and NBIS were one and the same.

You know, he’s right — we screwed up with that PDF. Link: removed. The other stuff? Kind of seems…semantic. Readers, what do you think about Orloff’s other critiques?

But, more importantly, what about our questions, Alex?

I am not aware of SFMTA’s assertion of ownership of the data. I will review the quotes in the piece to check the validity. I think that your quotes and the article in general did not bring the situation up to current with regards to discussion or attempts to discuss the matter with Peterson.

So we restated the information from our earlier piece: that the SFMTA has said that, no, they own the data, and that it is accessible to the public. We said that if he had other stuff to say that changed the character of the remarks we quoted, to please tell us and let us right that. And, since we had him, we asked (this is kind of inside baseball, feel free to skip to the next part):

I assume that if I am attacked because of this reporting that you will take the time to explain to my children, who are 2 years old and 1 year old, exactly why your reporting was in the best interests of our society?

One question we did have is that in one of your interactions you had with Steven (Peterson, creator of Routesy, the app Orloff had shut down earlier this month), you stated that “we typically quote a price in the tens of thousands of dollars per month to license the prediction data feeds.” On the other hand, your CEO states that NBIS only requests one dollar per download. Which statement is correct?

Orloff’s response:

Where is this statement by SFMTA ? I didn’t see it on their website.

Visibly sighing, we responded with this quote from our article

“But were those rights Grey Island’s to promise to NBIS? Muni spokesperson Judson True says otherwise. In fact, he says that, no, Muni owns the data in question and that the public is, of course, entitled to access it. In fact, he went even further: Muni isn’t just giving us all permission to access the data, they’re also committed to finding ways to make it easier to get to it. So that means that independent developers should have unfettered access to develop whatever nifty little apps they want.”

as well as sending him a link to and quote from our esteemed colleagues in journalism at the SF Weekly

“In a nutshell, this is not how the city sees things. Judson True, the spokesman for Muni, states unambiguously that the city owns the Muni-related data on NextBus.com and NextMuni.com.”

Orloff responded:

Language is such a tricky thing. Are the NextBus predictions Muni-related data, or are they predictions from NextBus about events that have yet to occur ? They certainly are not facts, otherwise they wouldn’t be called “predictions.”

I also note that you didn’t quote the information from the Muni spokesperson in your blog, indicating that you recapitulated the statement.

WHAT. We basically responded.

You didn’t put quotes around the statement from Muni spokesperson.

I should note that the entire tone of the article, and the responses / comments to it, make me a bit uneasy. One of your readers comments that his preferred way of dealing with people like me is fisticuffs. I assume that if I am attacked because of this reporting (I have received numerous dark emails) that you will take the time to explain to my children, who are 2 years old and 1 year old, exactly why your reporting was in the best interests of our society?

Readers, we certainly don’t advocate violence against anyone on these pages. If any of you are considering saying something that could be construed as violent in our comments, don’t or we’ll kick your ass.

In the interim, we’ve emailed our questions to Alex one last time. As we wait for a response, anyone want to explain to Alex why this “reporting was in the best interests of our society?” And if you think it’s not, well, say that too!

the author

Eve Batey is the editor and publisher of the San Francisco Appeal. She used to be the San Francisco Chronicle's Deputy Managing Editor for Online, and started at the Chronicle as their blogging and interactive editor. Before that, she was a co-founding writer and the lead editor of SFist. She's been in the city since 1997, presently living in the Outer Sunset with her husband, cat, and dog. You can reach Eve at eve@sfappeal.com.

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