NextBus Information Systems responds to this piece here. Kind of.

When Steven Peterson created Routesy, an iPhone app that lets riders see Muni arrival times, the last thing he expected was to hear was that Muni’s real-time arrival times were actually the property of a private company located in the East Bay. But that’s exactly what happened, when Alex Orloff, COO of a company calling itself NextBus Information Systems, contacted him in August, 2008, demanding a “straight revenue split” or a “data licensing agreement” from Peterson.

In other words: this company says that the NextBus predictions generated by Muni — a public agency, owned by San Franciscans — don’t belong to San Franciscans. Want to use it? Sure, that’s fine — they’re happy to rent it back to you for thousands of dollars a month. And the worst part is: even though their ownership claim is probably bogus, nobody’s ready to fight it in court.

The story of how public data became the property of a private company — or maybe it didn’t — starts a few months ago with Steven Peterson, a San Franciscan web developer who wanted to build a better iPhone app because he rides Muni every day and likes data. “I used to live in the Union Square area and had to ride the 30 or 45 to CalTrain. I realized that if I could come up with an app that could give me the precise time I needed to be at the bus stop, I could sleep 10 more minutes. Then I realized that other people might want to sleep in, too, so instead of making it just for myself I made it for everyone.”

Instead of letting us see when our buses are coming, NBIS locked the arrival times in an imaginary vending machine. This would be like if advertising giant Clear Channel waltzed into the subway stations, tore down all the Muni maps, and then offered to sell them back to you at a steep markup.A company called NextBus placed transponders on all Muni vehicles so they could be tracked; their arrival predictions are displayed in stations, bus shelters, and in their own online and mobile applications. But don’t confuse NextBus with NextBus Information Systems (NBIS) — a separate company represented, at least in this case, by a guy named Alex Orloff who seems to be laying claim to the data produced by NextBus.

Last fall, after determining that the Routesy’s user numbers were pretty low (at that time, about 990 people had downloaded the $2.99 app from Apple’s site), Orloff emailed Peterson again, saying “I don’t think there is a workable potential licensing arrangement for your application. You do not make any recurring revenue and we typically quote a price in the tens of thousands of dollars per month to license the prediction data feeds.” He demanded an “orderly shutdown process.”

After Orloff made his shutdown demand, Peterson did a little digging of his own, and realized that though the company Orloff spoke for, NextBus Information Systems, shared a name with NextBus, the arrival-prediction company responsible for giving you news like “Next 33-Stanyan in 148 minutes,” the affiliation between the companies was tenuous, at best. He called Orloff’s bluff, told him he had no right to shut Routesy down, and the conversation seemed to be over.

That is, until Orloff reared his head again about two weeks ago. This time, he went to Apple, and in an email to the company dated June 12, Orloff said

We demand that you do not approve any updates for the App Store application “Routesy” until the application developer has licensed the NextBus real-time prediction data from us, or removes the use of NextBus data from his application. As I have mentioned numerous times in our previous discussions, NextBus Information Systems Inc. is the sole agent for commercial use of the NextBus real-time prediction data in the United States and has exclusive rights to distribution of this data to mobile phones. The Routesy application downloads and republishes this copyrighted data which is damaging to us.

Apple complied with Orloff’s requests, and since the 12th, Routesy, as an app, has been dead. In an effort to revive it, Peterson fired back, offering to make Routsey free, in hopes of negating the argument that the data was being used in a commercial fashion. Orloff’s response:

Our Franchisee rights cover commercial use of the data, as well as exclusive rights to distribute the NextBus data to mobile phones. Furthermore, we do not view free applications on the App Store as a non-commercial use of the data. The Apple Store is currently using the tagline “Your iPhone gets better with every new app.” If Apple wishes to promote iPhones by releasing a free version of Routesy, we would be happy to have Apple pay the licensing fees.

(Good luck sending Apple a bill for that, NBIS.)

This move doesn’t just deprive Peterson of an opportunity to tinker — it deprives all San Franciscans of access to arrival times. Instead of letting us see when our buses are coming, NBIS locked the arrival times in an imaginary vending machine. This would be like if advertising giant Clear Channel waltzed into the subway stations, tore down all the Muni maps, and then offered to sell them back to you at a steep markup.

“The outpouring of support I’ve gotten since Routesy got killed has been amazing. All these people, sending me messages of support over what is basically a broken app. It’s really heartwarming to see so many people so passionate about using public transportation. This is the wrong city to mess with.”

So, why does NBIS seem to speak for NextBus, and does a private company indeed own Muni’s data? We asked NextBus about their relationship with NBIS. They refused to comment, “due to legal issues.” So, neither a confirmation nor a denial, eh?

Peterson did us one better, and corresponded with Owen Moore, President and co-founder of Grey Island (the company that owns NextBus). Moore told Peterson that when Grey Island acquired NextBus Information Systems in 2004, they made an agreement that says:

A franchise right has been granted to the seller of the Nextbus business, Nextbus Information Systems Inc., for a period of 25 years, renewable for a further 25 years. The franchise relates to advertisement and subscription services of Nextbus and it is agreed that the Company will contribute towards the development of any product as it relates to the Franchise Agreement, contingent upon the mutual agreement between Company and Nextbus Information Systems Inc. Such development costs are to be borne equally by the parties, to a maximum potential contribution by the Company of US$200,000. To date, no development costs related to advertisement and subscription services have been incurred

.

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.

When we told Peterson about True’s statement to us, he was silent for a moment. Then “Awesome. That. Is. Awesome.”

In the last few days, Peterson has been hard at work on a web-based version of his app, but is now hopeful that with Muni’s statement of support the app can return to Apple. But , while we’d love to say that it’ll be smooth sailing for Steven and his app from here on out, what we’ve seen so far from NBIS suggests that this story is far from over. We’ll keep you posted.

Thanks to Greg Dewar for his insights as we prepared this report.

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  • kfarr

    Great story!

    Glad to see Muni is at least doing its part to keep its data open to the public, which makes sense considering it’s an entity run by the local municipality on behalf of residents.

    It’s one thing to outsource arrival prediction services to an outside provider, but another thing entirely for a provider to lay exclusive claim to that data.

  • kfarr

    Great story!

    Glad to see Muni is at least doing its part to keep its data open to the public, which makes sense considering it’s an entity run by the local municipality on behalf of residents.

    It’s one thing to outsource arrival prediction services to an outside provider, but another thing entirely for a provider to lay exclusive claim to that data.

  • Jeffrey McManus

    This situation didn’t happen by accident — I’d be interested to know who in city government is responsible for this situation coming to pass. It’s utterly embarrassing that the city would enter into an agreement with a vendor only to see the vendor turn around and turn a buck trying to sell this public data back to its citizens. This data is already PAID for, by us! Muni data, like other public data, should be publicly available and *machine readable*.

  • Jeffrey McManus

    This situation didn’t happen by accident — I’d be interested to know who in city government is responsible for this situation coming to pass. It’s utterly embarrassing that the city would enter into an agreement with a vendor only to see the vendor turn around and turn a buck trying to sell this public data back to its citizens. This data is already PAID for, by us! Muni data, like other public data, should be publicly available and *machine readable*.

  • iluvSF

    same story for a site called http://sf.munitime.com/ which makes an iphone app as well.
    you can contact them for their sad story

    feedback@munitime.com

    NextBus and MTA are WRONG for trying to monetize public data. This is a shame. The city should craft their contracts so that vendors can’t claim that it’s their data. No brainer.

  • iluvSF

    same story for a site called http://sf.munitime.com/ which makes an iphone app as well.
    you can contact them for their sad story

    feedback@munitime.com

    NextBus and MTA are WRONG for trying to monetize public data. This is a shame. The city should craft their contracts so that vendors can’t claim that it’s their data. No brainer.

  • somethingDev

    This is ridiculous. No company (NextBus / Grey Island) should have ever snookered themselves into such a legal position.
    It seems that not only is NBIS / Alex Orloff a data tyrant and seemingly whiny child, but also just a bad businessman. Thousands of dollars required for the data feed? in the world of free information, thats ridiculous. They should be charging next to nothing to let these companies get off the ground. It’s like the RIAA suing their customers!

  • somethingDev

    This is ridiculous. No company (NextBus / Grey Island) should have ever snookered themselves into such a legal position.
    It seems that not only is NBIS / Alex Orloff a data tyrant and seemingly whiny child, but also just a bad businessman. Thousands of dollars required for the data feed? in the world of free information, thats ridiculous. They should be charging next to nothing to let these companies get off the ground. It’s like the RIAA suing their customers!

  • EQL94114

    For a long time I’ve been using a bookmark on my phone’s internet connection for the NextBus routes and stops I take frequently. Works just fine, no app needed!

  • EQL94114

    For a long time I’ve been using a bookmark on my phone’s internet connection for the NextBus routes and stops I take frequently. Works just fine, no app needed!

  • Matt Baume

    I use the website too, but some of those apps (that Alex Orloff forced down) were really great. Like, they mapped your current location and showed you the nearest stops. And they had info about other connecting transit agencies.

    The bottom line is, innovation is good.

  • Matt Baume

    I use the website too, but some of those apps (that Alex Orloff forced down) were really great. Like, they mapped your current location and showed you the nearest stops. And they had info about other connecting transit agencies.

    The bottom line is, innovation is good.

  • SF AberDawg

    Speaking on the dl because of my employer (CCSF), I spoke to Dustin at sf.munitime.com about my dismay over his being threatened by NBIS. I have been trying to work within the city to get the raw data available via a live feed. Perhaps due to your excellent reporting I will contact Judson True and see if I can work with someone technical to get the feed out. If MTA releases the info, is Orloff and NBIS really going to go after them?

    Also there is a murmur of an effort to release much more city data in raw form in the way that Obama has in http://www.data.gov/

    Politically, don’t know how much can come out but this account goes to my spam email which is under my dog’s name so I think I am pretty safe ;-)

  • SF AberDawg

    Speaking on the dl because of my employer (CCSF), I spoke to Dustin at sf.munitime.com about my dismay over his being threatened by NBIS. I have been trying to work within the city to get the raw data available via a live feed. Perhaps due to your excellent reporting I will contact Judson True and see if I can work with someone technical to get the feed out. If MTA releases the info, is Orloff and NBIS really going to go after them?

    Also there is a murmur of an effort to release much more city data in raw form in the way that Obama has in http://www.data.gov/

    Politically, don’t know how much can come out but this account goes to my spam email which is under my dog’s name so I think I am pretty safe ;-)

  • Jackson West

    Great story. These data rights and licensing questions are only going to get more interesting, generally. I know that Major League Baseball has been arguing that it owns any and all statistics related to games in order to cut themselves a piece of the online fantasy baseball pie.

    If I remember correctly, facts and statements of fact aren’t necessarily covered by copyright law. So while NBIS isn’t necessarily obliged to provide a fully-functional API (though that would be very nice of them), I don’t think they can necessarily claim any ownership rights over the information as information.

  • Jackson West

    Great story. These data rights and licensing questions are only going to get more interesting, generally. I know that Major League Baseball has been arguing that it owns any and all statistics related to games in order to cut themselves a piece of the online fantasy baseball pie.

    If I remember correctly, facts and statements of fact aren’t necessarily covered by copyright law. So while NBIS isn’t necessarily obliged to provide a fully-functional API (though that would be very nice of them), I don’t think they can necessarily claim any ownership rights over the information as information.

  • theo

    Jeffrey and iluvSF, I don’t see any evidence that Muni/MTA did anything wrong here. They’ve consistently done more to make data available than most public transit agencies, and True’s extremely blunt statement (for a PR guy!) tells you where they stand with no ambiguity.

    My take is that Nextbus, which used to be a technically minded company that I found quite responsive to user suggestions, got acquired by the greedy jerks at Grey Island.

    It appears that Grey Island wanted to break into the potentially profitable business of making user-facing software (not just the Nextbus.com website it runs as part of its public contracts). However, they knew their ownership claim to the data was tenuous, because it’s factual public information. The only ownership claim they might have is for prediction times generated with their proprietary algorithms, and that only if their agency contracts allow it.

    When you don’t know whether you can legally do something, the time-honored tradition is to set up a shady subsidiary doing it, which you can deny if you get sued. Here that subsidiary is NBIS, fronted by one Alex Orloff, who is too incompetent to write software or provide any services that anyone wants to license (“To date, no development costs related to advertisement and subscription services have been incurred” tells you all you need to know). Thus he’s relying on litigation as a business model — see the SCO/Linux case for a similar example in the software world.

    Apple’s also to blame, but they’re in a difficult position because they simply can’t afford to have lawyers review every $2.99 app in the App Store. When Orloff’s paper software company wrote “The Routesy application downloads and republishes this copyrighted data which is damaging to us” he was basically warning Apple they would incur legal penalties because they were knowingly allowing the damages to continue.

    Disclaimer: IANAL, and my preferred way to deal with punks like Orloff is fisticuffs.

  • theo

    Jeffrey and iluvSF, I don’t see any evidence that Muni/MTA did anything wrong here. They’ve consistently done more to make data available than most public transit agencies, and True’s extremely blunt statement (for a PR guy!) tells you where they stand with no ambiguity.

    My take is that Nextbus, which used to be a technically minded company that I found quite responsive to user suggestions, got acquired by the greedy jerks at Grey Island.

    It appears that Grey Island wanted to break into the potentially profitable business of making user-facing software (not just the Nextbus.com website it runs as part of its public contracts). However, they knew their ownership claim to the data was tenuous, because it’s factual public information. The only ownership claim they might have is for prediction times generated with their proprietary algorithms, and that only if their agency contracts allow it.

    When you don’t know whether you can legally do something, the time-honored tradition is to set up a shady subsidiary doing it, which you can deny if you get sued. Here that subsidiary is NBIS, fronted by one Alex Orloff, who is too incompetent to write software or provide any services that anyone wants to license (“To date, no development costs related to advertisement and subscription services have been incurred” tells you all you need to know). Thus he’s relying on litigation as a business model — see the SCO/Linux case for a similar example in the software world.

    Apple’s also to blame, but they’re in a difficult position because they simply can’t afford to have lawyers review every $2.99 app in the App Store. When Orloff’s paper software company wrote “The Routesy application downloads and republishes this copyrighted data which is damaging to us” he was basically warning Apple they would incur legal penalties because they were knowingly allowing the damages to continue.

    Disclaimer: IANAL, and my preferred way to deal with punks like Orloff is fisticuffs.

  • Joe Hughes

    Part of the problem is that the availability of public transit data rarely gets much coverage, so transit agency folks don’t always realize the importance of getting this right. At the first TransitCampBayArea event last year, Mike Smith of NextBus (not NextBus Information Systems) urged riders and developers to make a fuss about access to this information: http://headwayblog.com/2008/03/03/transit-camp-bay-area-report/

    Looks like that’s finally happening!

  • Joe Hughes

    Part of the problem is that the availability of public transit data rarely gets much coverage, so transit agency folks don’t always realize the importance of getting this right. At the first TransitCampBayArea event last year, Mike Smith of NextBus (not NextBus Information Systems) urged riders and developers to make a fuss about access to this information: http://headwayblog.com/2008/03/03/transit-camp-bay-area-report/

    Looks like that’s finally happening!

  • Wil

    Shame on Apple for making themselves judge and jury and shutting down an app based on threats from someone who didn’t have the right to make them.

  • Wil

    Shame on Apple for making themselves judge and jury and shutting down an app based on threats from someone who didn’t have the right to make them.

  • SF AberDawg

    Here here

  • SF AberDawg

    Here here

  • Karl

    If anybody is looking for a data format, check out TriMet’s:
    http://developer.trimet.org/ws_docs/
    These apps:
    http://trimet.org/apps/index.htm
    (category Web Service) would be available, almost straight out of the box.

  • Karl

    If anybody is looking for a data format, check out TriMet’s:
    http://developer.trimet.org/ws_docs/
    These apps:
    http://trimet.org/apps/index.htm
    (category Web Service) would be available, almost straight out of the box.

  • Frank235

    Seems to me that if NextBus paid to put in the tracking devices, they should get something in return. And exclusive rights does not seem outrageous to me. If the city of SF wants to decide who can use this data, then they should pay to create it by paying to put in tracking devices. But they didn’t. Problem is, govt agencies typically don’t pony up money for innovation and this is why it typically falls on the private sector to innovate. But the private sector will only continue to innovate if they can make a profit. Remember, we live in a capitalist society, not a communist one. I for one am just thankful that someone went ahead and did this. I use nextbus daily and love it. And I get the data on my phone via the web browser. Thank you NextBus.

  • Frank235

    Seems to me that if NextBus paid to put in the tracking devices, they should get something in return. And exclusive rights does not seem outrageous to me. If the city of SF wants to decide who can use this data, then they should pay to create it by paying to put in tracking devices. But they didn’t. Problem is, govt agencies typically don’t pony up money for innovation and this is why it typically falls on the private sector to innovate. But the private sector will only continue to innovate if they can make a profit. Remember, we live in a capitalist society, not a communist one. I for one am just thankful that someone went ahead and did this. I use nextbus daily and love it. And I get the data on my phone via the web browser. Thank you NextBus.

  • Tim

    Looks to me that SF paid quite a bit (12 mil) to put those tracking devices on the buses. It wasn’t out of the goodness of the Nextbus heart hoping to make some profit later:

    http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=conewsstory&refer=conews&tkr=GIS:CN&sid=axTjU64F3wlc

    As for govt agencies not innovating, perhaps you missed Karl’s post above yours.

  • Tim

    Looks to me that SF paid quite a bit (12 mil) to put those tracking devices on the buses. It wasn’t out of the goodness of the Nextbus heart hoping to make some profit later:

    http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=conewsstory&refer=conews&tkr=GIS:CN&sid=axTjU64F3wlc

    As for govt agencies not innovating, perhaps you missed Karl’s post above yours.

  • Able Dart

    Excellent article outlining the issue, but I must mention that we scooped you on this:
    http://abledartsbathroomwall.yuku.com/topic/3049

  • Able Dart

    Excellent article outlining the issue, but I must mention that we scooped you on this:
    http://abledartsbathroomwall.yuku.com/topic/3049

  • generic

    Articles like this send me into a fit of rage.

    Using Nextbus on my iPhone doesn’t actually give them anything more than page views, does it?

  • generic

    Articles like this send me into a fit of rage.

    Using Nextbus on my iPhone doesn’t actually give them anything more than page views, does it?

  • Karl
  • Karl
  • variable455

    meh. When I heard of Routsey and saw the screenshots i thought it was pretty slick. definitely a better UI than nextbus – but it wasn’t enough to make me pay 3 bucks for it, because it offered nothing more than I could get with a browser – a couple of shortcuts on my home screen, and i’ve got the same info without the extra steps of navigating to the appropriate line (38L) and direction (in/out)

    @Jeffrey – no, it’s not paid for. aside from the intital cost of installing the system, they have to pay for airtime (the busses need to talk to the servers, the servers need to talk to the tickers at the stops, and the webservers need to talk to browsers). NB also has to pay for Routsey’s access to the data because it still hits the servers to get the latest info – bandwidth isn’t free.

    @Jackson – the MLB/fantasy baseball problem isn’t the same because player stats are published. every day. in the paper. free of charge.

  • variable455

    meh. When I heard of Routsey and saw the screenshots i thought it was pretty slick. definitely a better UI than nextbus – but it wasn’t enough to make me pay 3 bucks for it, because it offered nothing more than I could get with a browser – a couple of shortcuts on my home screen, and i’ve got the same info without the extra steps of navigating to the appropriate line (38L) and direction (in/out)

    @Jeffrey – no, it’s not paid for. aside from the intital cost of installing the system, they have to pay for airtime (the busses need to talk to the servers, the servers need to talk to the tickers at the stops, and the webservers need to talk to browsers). NB also has to pay for Routsey’s access to the data because it still hits the servers to get the latest info – bandwidth isn’t free.

    @Jackson – the MLB/fantasy baseball problem isn’t the same because player stats are published. every day. in the paper. free of charge.

  • variable455

    …just to add

    the info from nextbus could be interpreted as private because it’s not the static timetable available on the bus schedule. arrival times are adjusted for traffic conditions. nexbus has to do a lot of math – current location and speed of the bus, and distance to the next stop need to be calculated to provide an accurate ETA. MUNI provides the inputs, but nextbus massages that data into what the end user sees – it doesn’t tell you the next one will be there at 10:47, it tells you it will be there in 3 minutes, and i’ve seen those times change.. the first stop east of VanNess saw extra delays on the days following the PG&E incident that caused the 38 to detour (on the way downtown).

  • variable455

    …just to add

    the info from nextbus could be interpreted as private because it’s not the static timetable available on the bus schedule. arrival times are adjusted for traffic conditions. nexbus has to do a lot of math – current location and speed of the bus, and distance to the next stop need to be calculated to provide an accurate ETA. MUNI provides the inputs, but nextbus massages that data into what the end user sees – it doesn’t tell you the next one will be there at 10:47, it tells you it will be there in 3 minutes, and i’ve seen those times change.. the first stop east of VanNess saw extra delays on the days following the PG&E incident that caused the 38 to detour (on the way downtown).

  • Eve Batey

    Hey, now there’s an idea: how about the Appeal publishes real time Muni arrival information. “every day. on the internet. free of charge.”? Would that make Jackson’s analogy more apt?

  • Eve Batey

    Hey, now there’s an idea: how about the Appeal publishes real time Muni arrival information. “every day. on the internet. free of charge.”? Would that make Jackson’s analogy more apt?

  • focusd

    Suppose that Grey Island owns the prediction times generated by proprietary algorithms, and that this was part of the deal they have with the transit agencies.

    Suppose that the “free” phone apps only work because they access this prediction data using bandwidth and hardware supplied by Grey Island or NBIS.

    Suppose that since the 2004 statement that “to this date, no development effort has been undertaken”, significant development efforts had been undertaken to generate revenue around the proprietary data stream, which only exists and is made accessible because NBIS / Grey Island pays for it.

    Suppose that people like you, Theo, willfully ignore the possibility that Alex may be conducting a legitimate business here, and intentionally cause him harm because “Disclaimer: IANAL, and my preferred way to deal with punks like Orloff is fisticuffs.”

    Do you realize how hypocritical you are when you threaten personal violence against those who you speculate may intrude on your right to free public data? How about the right not to be threatened by violence for trying to conduct a legitimate business?

    I would strongly urge the editors of SF Appeal to make a note of Theo’s IP address and the comment time. Perhaps Theo needs a visit from the S.F.P.D. to provide him with some publicly available information that might save him significant legal and medical expenses he may incur if anything happens to Alex Orloff.

    In any case, I would urge people to figure out what the current facts are before demonizing any of the parties involved.

  • focusd

    Suppose that Grey Island owns the prediction times generated by proprietary algorithms, and that this was part of the deal they have with the transit agencies.

    Suppose that the “free” phone apps only work because they access this prediction data using bandwidth and hardware supplied by Grey Island or NBIS.

    Suppose that since the 2004 statement that “to this date, no development effort has been undertaken”, significant development efforts had been undertaken to generate revenue around the proprietary data stream, which only exists and is made accessible because NBIS / Grey Island pays for it.

    Suppose that people like you, Theo, willfully ignore the possibility that Alex may be conducting a legitimate business here, and intentionally cause him harm because “Disclaimer: IANAL, and my preferred way to deal with punks like Orloff is fisticuffs.”

    Do you realize how hypocritical you are when you threaten personal violence against those who you speculate may intrude on your right to free public data? How about the right not to be threatened by violence for trying to conduct a legitimate business?

    I would strongly urge the editors of SF Appeal to make a note of Theo’s IP address and the comment time. Perhaps Theo needs a visit from the S.F.P.D. to provide him with some publicly available information that might save him significant legal and medical expenses he may incur if anything happens to Alex Orloff.

    In any case, I would urge people to figure out what the current facts are before demonizing any of the parties involved.

  • apophis

    Where is the SF mayor in all this? Why isn’t he providing some kind of leadership, or what about his 300k a year Muni Director? What about Kamala Harris? She’ busy protecting thugs and violent criminals…

    This is a crystal example of the crap SF residents have to endure with is poseur leadership.

  • apophis

    Where is the SF mayor in all this? Why isn’t he providing some kind of leadership, or what about his 300k a year Muni Director? What about Kamala Harris? She’ busy protecting thugs and violent criminals…

    This is a crystal example of the crap SF residents have to endure with is poseur leadership.

  • Eve Batey

    Great idea on noting commenter IP addresses and comment times, focusd. Wouldn’t want any sock puppets commenting on this story, no siree.

  • Eve Batey

    Great idea on noting commenter IP addresses and comment times, focusd. Wouldn’t want any sock puppets commenting on this story, no siree.

  • Steven Peterson

    @variable455: It’s easy to get caught up in the difference between NextBus and NextBus Information Systems (NBIS). You’re right — accessing the data does use bandwidth. However, NextBus is fine with that, and Routesy hasn’t even been a blip on their radar. NBIS doesn’t run the servers that Routesy uses, so NBIS is incurring no charges from Routesy at all. If NextBus wanted me to pay them, I happily would. However, they’re not interested in that because they make millions of dollars installing transponders on buses. That’s their business model.

    NBIS, on the other hand, seems to have two sources of income: selling banner ads, and threatening developers to pay them money. NBIS claims to have the right to charge for the data due to an agreement they made with Grey Island in 2004. NBIS doesn’t run the servers, they don’t provide data feeds to developers, and Routesy doesn’t cost them anything because they don’t actually provide any services. The only reason a developer might want to pay them would be to get them to stop sending harassing emails to Apple.

    NBIS got very lucky that Apple is the gatekeeper on all applications, because they are actually unable to shut anyone down who uses the data, since they don’t provide it or control it in any way. However, none of that matters, because I suspect that the city will stamp this out when NextBus Inc. (the REAL NextBus) renegotiates its contract with SFMTA in the coming weeks.

  • Steven Peterson

    @variable455: It’s easy to get caught up in the difference between NextBus and NextBus Information Systems (NBIS). You’re right — accessing the data does use bandwidth. However, NextBus is fine with that, and Routesy hasn’t even been a blip on their radar. NBIS doesn’t run the servers that Routesy uses, so NBIS is incurring no charges from Routesy at all. If NextBus wanted me to pay them, I happily would. However, they’re not interested in that because they make millions of dollars installing transponders on buses. That’s their business model.

    NBIS, on the other hand, seems to have two sources of income: selling banner ads, and threatening developers to pay them money. NBIS claims to have the right to charge for the data due to an agreement they made with Grey Island in 2004. NBIS doesn’t run the servers, they don’t provide data feeds to developers, and Routesy doesn’t cost them anything because they don’t actually provide any services. The only reason a developer might want to pay them would be to get them to stop sending harassing emails to Apple.

    NBIS got very lucky that Apple is the gatekeeper on all applications, because they are actually unable to shut anyone down who uses the data, since they don’t provide it or control it in any way. However, none of that matters, because I suspect that the city will stamp this out when NextBus Inc. (the REAL NextBus) renegotiates its contract with SFMTA in the coming weeks.

  • focusd

    Eve, I don’t think “sock puppet” means what you think it means, and name calling hurts your credibility more than it does mine. There is no deception intended here. I registered to respond to this article, I disagree with the conclusions, I happen to be somewhat familiar with the situation, and I’m appalled by Theo’s advocacy of personal violence as the resolution, as I hope most around here would be. I don’t have any financial stake in the outcome of this situation, but I would rather not reveal my identity to the parties involved.

    If NBIS has a contractual agreement with Grey Island to provide and license the data feed of real-time predictions (which are algorithmically generated by NextBus Inc, not SFMUNI), they have the right to ask that the users of the feed subscribe to and access the data from facilities developed and maintained by NBIS. Just because people may have access to the data through some alternative undocumented or unauthorized channel doesn’t mean they are entitled to do so in perpetuity.

    I think it would be great if the Appeal published real-time MUNI arrival information, “free of charge” (ie. no advertising). That would provide a very useful service to commuters, and a great way for all of us to better understand the specifics of how this data is generated and distributed, which hopefully you will document for the record.

  • focusd

    Eve, I don’t think “sock puppet” means what you think it means, and name calling hurts your credibility more than it does mine. There is no deception intended here. I registered to respond to this article, I disagree with the conclusions, I happen to be somewhat familiar with the situation, and I’m appalled by Theo’s advocacy of personal violence as the resolution, as I hope most around here would be. I don’t have any financial stake in the outcome of this situation, but I would rather not reveal my identity to the parties involved.

    If NBIS has a contractual agreement with Grey Island to provide and license the data feed of real-time predictions (which are algorithmically generated by NextBus Inc, not SFMUNI), they have the right to ask that the users of the feed subscribe to and access the data from facilities developed and maintained by NBIS. Just because people may have access to the data through some alternative undocumented or unauthorized channel doesn’t mean they are entitled to do so in perpetuity.

    I think it would be great if the Appeal published real-time MUNI arrival information, “free of charge” (ie. no advertising). That would provide a very useful service to commuters, and a great way for all of us to better understand the specifics of how this data is generated and distributed, which hopefully you will document for the record.

  • Matt Baume

    That’s a pretty big “if.”

  • Matt Baume

    That’s a pretty big “if.”

  • GregSJ

    “@Jackson – the MLB/fantasy baseball problem isn’t the same because player stats are published. every day. in the paper. free of charge.The MLB facts published in the newspaper”
    There are so many things wrong with this statement I don’t know where to start.
    1. Newspapers are not so free (subscription cost)
    2. The reason MLB/Fantasy Baseball stats are not copyrightable has nothing to do with the fact that they are published every day in the paper. It has to do with them being facts as the original commenter stated.
    3. Real time muni information is already published online for free: http://www.nextbus.com/predictor/stopSelector.jsp?a=sf-muni

  • GregSJ

    “@Jackson – the MLB/fantasy baseball problem isn’t the same because player stats are published. every day. in the paper. free of charge.The MLB facts published in the newspaper”
    There are so many things wrong with this statement I don’t know where to start.
    1. Newspapers are not so free (subscription cost)
    2. The reason MLB/Fantasy Baseball stats are not copyrightable has nothing to do with the fact that they are published every day in the paper. It has to do with them being facts as the original commenter stated.
    3. Real time muni information is already published online for free: http://www.nextbus.com/predictor/stopSelector.jsp?a=sf-muni

  • theo

    Dear focusd,

    Learn to take a joke, you humorless sockmuppet, or you will also face my wrath.

    I don’t know Alex Orloff, but based on his skillful piloting of his company, if (g-d forbid) anything should happen to him it’ll be because he tripped over his shoelaces and fell down the stairs.

    If my dog had a monopoly (like NBIS claims they do) over an incredibly useful and growing software niche like real-time transit, he would have developed a real product by now, and would be swimming in kibbles.

    No disrespect intended to Steven Peterson, who is a much better programmer than my dog.

  • theo

    Dear focusd,

    Learn to take a joke, you humorless sockmuppet, or you will also face my wrath.

    I don’t know Alex Orloff, but based on his skillful piloting of his company, if (g-d forbid) anything should happen to him it’ll be because he tripped over his shoelaces and fell down the stairs.

    If my dog had a monopoly (like NBIS claims they do) over an incredibly useful and growing software niche like real-time transit, he would have developed a real product by now, and would be swimming in kibbles.

    No disrespect intended to Steven Peterson, who is a much better programmer than my dog.

  • theo

    In any case, I would urge people to figure out what the current facts are before demonizing any of the parties involved.

    You’re not helping by spreading false facts.

    Suppose that the “free” phone apps only work because they access this prediction data using bandwidth and hardware supplied by Grey Island or NBIS.

    Steven Peterson, who wrote Routesy, knows exactly how he accesses the prediction data, and as far as he or anyone else can tell it has nothing to do with NBIS. Whether some other branch of Grey Island like Nextbus is involved is irrelevant, because they’re not the one writing letters to Apple.

    You say you “don’t have any financial stake in the outcome of this situation,” but frankly I find that hard to believe given your supposed knowledge that “significant development efforts had been undertaken to generate revenue around the proprietary data stream.” No one writes like that except MBAs and consultants, and they don’t work for free.

  • theo

    In any case, I would urge people to figure out what the current facts are before demonizing any of the parties involved.

    You’re not helping by spreading false facts.

    Suppose that the “free” phone apps only work because they access this prediction data using bandwidth and hardware supplied by Grey Island or NBIS.

    Steven Peterson, who wrote Routesy, knows exactly how he accesses the prediction data, and as far as he or anyone else can tell it has nothing to do with NBIS. Whether some other branch of Grey Island like Nextbus is involved is irrelevant, because they’re not the one writing letters to Apple.

    You say you “don’t have any financial stake in the outcome of this situation,” but frankly I find that hard to believe given your supposed knowledge that “significant development efforts had been undertaken to generate revenue around the proprietary data stream.” No one writes like that except MBAs and consultants, and they don’t work for free.

  • Greg

    There’s really two different pieces of information here.

    1) The real-time GPS data.
    2) The NextBus predictions.

    NBIS can keep their predictions, just give me the real-time GPS data. Tell me where the next bus is right now, (and perhaps where it was five minutes ago), and I can figure out if it’s going to be a couple of minutes or a long wait.

    The NextBus predictions are constantly misleading me anyway. Time and again I’ve sat there and watched the prediction times go up. I’ve gotten to a bus stop, seen a two minute prediction time, and two minutes later that prediction time was up to three minutes.

    A faulty prediction time is less helpful to me than the actual physical location of the bus.

  • Greg

    There’s really two different pieces of information here.

    1) The real-time GPS data.
    2) The NextBus predictions.

    NBIS can keep their predictions, just give me the real-time GPS data. Tell me where the next bus is right now, (and perhaps where it was five minutes ago), and I can figure out if it’s going to be a couple of minutes or a long wait.

    The NextBus predictions are constantly misleading me anyway. Time and again I’ve sat there and watched the prediction times go up. I’ve gotten to a bus stop, seen a two minute prediction time, and two minutes later that prediction time was up to three minutes.

    A faulty prediction time is less helpful to me than the actual physical location of the bus.

  • AppTight

    We at AppTight, developer of the application iCommute-SF, would like to share our perspective on how we came to terms with Nextbus Information Systems and why we feel it is a proper and fair agreement. AppTight was founded by 3 long time veterans of the software and mobile industries and upon founding, our first task was to decide on an initial project.

    Being San Francisco residents and active riders of the Muni system, we were familiar with the Nextbus.com prediction services and knew we could create a useful application to provide a better mobile interface to access the data and add additional functionality enabled by the iPhone’s integrated features, such as the GPS. As has been reported many times so far in this saga, we too were unable to cipher out exactly who owned what in regards to data ownership or publishing rights. But, based on our experiences and familiarity with such legal matters, we were very well aware that once we launched we might be hearing from Nextbus and/or Muni.

    Sure enough, within a week of iCommute-SF going live on the App Store, we received an email from a company called Nextbus Information Systems (NBIS) stating their position and asking us to contact them. Having expected this, we phoned them directly and set up a meeting that same day. We then met with Ken Schmier and Alex Orloff, the CEO and COO of NBIS. During the course of this meeting we learned much of the history as to how the system was created, the histories of the various companies involved, who they were and why they had the right to receive compensation in return for our republishing the data via our iPhone application. It was, and still is, our understanding that NBIS owns the mobile distribution rights to the prediction data being generated by the Nextbus systems.

    To us at AppTight, this was good news. We were certainly capable of continuing to access the data in the manner we originally engineered, but by having a direct and mutually beneficial relationship with NBIS, we could get our data feed directly from the source and thereby have the best chance of providing consistent and reliable prediction data for our users. Any changes or updates to the system would now be openly available to us and vice versa, we could provide NBIS with helpful insights and recommendations on how to improve things from their end. To these ends, we agreed to a non-exclusive licensing agreement that positioned us as an official licensee of the data in return for $1 per application sold. It is also our understanding that Nextbus, Inc. also receives a share of the royalty revenue stream paid out by NBIS. These terms were established with the understanding that they would also be offered to and enforced upon any other existing or future applications that republished the prediction data via mobile devices. We later learned from the media and NBIS that the terms were accepted by iMuni as well, but rejected by Peterson for his Routesy app.

    We’ve closely followed the progression of this controversy and understand why it is that there are so many differing opinions and why people can have such differing convictions as to who has what rights as it’s a lengthy history with many revisions, contracts, acquisitions and tranfers. That being said, we are quite happy with our relationship with NBIS and feel that it ultimately achieves the best possible service for the consumers. Being non-exclusive means will we continue improving the features of our app in the spirit of competition with other developers. And having a direct and mutually beneficial relationship with NBIS will keep the data feed consistent, reliable and up to date.

    And finally, contrary to reports otherwise, the prediction data is still and will remain to be totally free to those who choose to access it via the existing services as provided by Nextbus, Inc. on their website and other channels. Data republishing rights are not a new issue and in this particular situation regarding NBIS, Nextbus and Muni, we’re confident that NBIS is acting in good faith and in the best interest of all involved.

    Sincerely,

    The AppTight Team

    Happy Commuting!

  • AppTight

    We at AppTight, developer of the application iCommute-SF, would like to share our perspective on how we came to terms with Nextbus Information Systems and why we feel it is a proper and fair agreement. AppTight was founded by 3 long time veterans of the software and mobile industries and upon founding, our first task was to decide on an initial project.

    Being San Francisco residents and active riders of the Muni system, we were familiar with the Nextbus.com prediction services and knew we could create a useful application to provide a better mobile interface to access the data and add additional functionality enabled by the iPhone’s integrated features, such as the GPS. As has been reported many times so far in this saga, we too were unable to cipher out exactly who owned what in regards to data ownership or publishing rights. But, based on our experiences and familiarity with such legal matters, we were very well aware that once we launched we might be hearing from Nextbus and/or Muni.

    Sure enough, within a week of iCommute-SF going live on the App Store, we received an email from a company called Nextbus Information Systems (NBIS) stating their position and asking us to contact them. Having expected this, we phoned them directly and set up a meeting that same day. We then met with Ken Schmier and Alex Orloff, the CEO and COO of NBIS. During the course of this meeting we learned much of the history as to how the system was created, the histories of the various companies involved, who they were and why they had the right to receive compensation in return for our republishing the data via our iPhone application. It was, and still is, our understanding that NBIS owns the mobile distribution rights to the prediction data being generated by the Nextbus systems.

    To us at AppTight, this was good news. We were certainly capable of continuing to access the data in the manner we originally engineered, but by having a direct and mutually beneficial relationship with NBIS, we could get our data feed directly from the source and thereby have the best chance of providing consistent and reliable prediction data for our users. Any changes or updates to the system would now be openly available to us and vice versa, we could provide NBIS with helpful insights and recommendations on how to improve things from their end. To these ends, we agreed to a non-exclusive licensing agreement that positioned us as an official licensee of the data in return for $1 per application sold. It is also our understanding that Nextbus, Inc. also receives a share of the royalty revenue stream paid out by NBIS. These terms were established with the understanding that they would also be offered to and enforced upon any other existing or future applications that republished the prediction data via mobile devices. We later learned from the media and NBIS that the terms were accepted by iMuni as well, but rejected by Peterson for his Routesy app.

    We’ve closely followed the progression of this controversy and understand why it is that there are so many differing opinions and why people can have such differing convictions as to who has what rights as it’s a lengthy history with many revisions, contracts, acquisitions and tranfers. That being said, we are quite happy with our relationship with NBIS and feel that it ultimately achieves the best possible service for the consumers. Being non-exclusive means will we continue improving the features of our app in the spirit of competition with other developers. And having a direct and mutually beneficial relationship with NBIS will keep the data feed consistent, reliable and up to date.

    And finally, contrary to reports otherwise, the prediction data is still and will remain to be totally free to those who choose to access it via the existing services as provided by Nextbus, Inc. on their website and other channels. Data republishing rights are not a new issue and in this particular situation regarding NBIS, Nextbus and Muni, we’re confident that NBIS is acting in good faith and in the best interest of all involved.

    Sincerely,

    The AppTight Team

    Happy Commuting!

  • Steven Peterson

    This is why doing research before signing a contract is so important. The NextBus contract with Muni clearly states that Muni owns the data and that any commercialization by NextBus is forbidden without the express consent of the SFMTA, and a revenue sharing agreement with the city is require if the data is to be commercialized. NBIS currently has no such agreement with the SFMTA. Muni’s spokesperson, Judson True, has said that developers are free to use the data as they wish and they encourge developers to build applications using the real-time predictions. I highly recommend reading the section entitled “Ownership of Data” in the city’s contract with NextBus. NBIS does not have any exclusive right to demand that anyone license data from them. Ask them to show you the agreement they have with NextBus, and I’m sure they won’t allow you to see it. The city contract, for your reference, can be found here: http://bit.ly/nextbus-contract. I recommend you also seek out the “Points of Clarification”, which have the word “exclusive” explicitly crossed out. If I convinced you that I had the right to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge, I suppose that would be “good faith” as well. However, the fact that you feel good about it doesn’t change the fact that you’ve been duped.

  • Steven Peterson

    This is why doing research before signing a contract is so important. The NextBus contract with Muni clearly states that Muni owns the data and that any commercialization by NextBus is forbidden without the express consent of the SFMTA, and a revenue sharing agreement with the city is require if the data is to be commercialized. NBIS currently has no such agreement with the SFMTA. Muni’s spokesperson, Judson True, has said that developers are free to use the data as they wish and they encourge developers to build applications using the real-time predictions. I highly recommend reading the section entitled “Ownership of Data” in the city’s contract with NextBus. NBIS does not have any exclusive right to demand that anyone license data from them. Ask them to show you the agreement they have with NextBus, and I’m sure they won’t allow you to see it. The city contract, for your reference, can be found here: http://bit.ly/nextbus-contract. I recommend you also seek out the “Points of Clarification”, which have the word “exclusive” explicitly crossed out. If I convinced you that I had the right to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge, I suppose that would be “good faith” as well. However, the fact that you feel good about it doesn’t change the fact that you’ve been duped.