the best way to predict the future is to create it

it’s pretty clear i didn’t follow up my initial blogging enthusiasm. there’s a number of reasons for it, none of which are particularly interesting.

today i twittered that i am “frustrated that the future isn’t here yet… feeling it’s partly my own fault.” [1]. this was prompted by an article in the guardian describing the future of london’s bus services [2]. i also watched the video introduction to nokia’s conceptual design of ‘morph’ – a fascinating device which would interact with the environment around it in ways unimaginable using devices available to buy today [3].

so how to we get from where we are now via london bus to morph? not like this:

“The priority is to get all the buses equipped, then we can start thinking about what we want to do with the real-time passenger information.”

knowing what products to build on the data so people can have the best possible experience is non trivial and i don’t expect TFL (on their own) to get it right. however, knowing what to do with the data is a complete no brainer: set it free and let people help you create the right products.

the first thing london bus plan to do with the data is to have a spoken announcement every time the bus is approaching a stop. i hope they reconsider. why go with something so intrusive from the outset? why not start by putting the next stop on a scrolling LCD or TV screen only? why not allow people to decide the best way for them to access the data themselves?

personally i’d love an application that allows you to use a mobile device to select the stop you want to get off the bus, then it interrupts the song i’m listening to or beeps my mobile phone whenever i’m one stop away from the destination. i could also share with a friend that i’m meeting the unique identifier for the bus that i’m on so they track the bus and know when i’ll arrive with them. that would be beautiful. for me. will TFL think of me and build that application? no. but by keeping the data to themselves they prevent me from building it for myself and sharing it with others.

a closed system distances a company from their own customers – who are the people that know best what direction and products they should be focusing on.

openness creates the potential to interact with services and our environment how we want to – which improves services and makes me a happier customer.


  1. Hi Colm,

    I agree that this data should be free. It’s meant to be for public, so why not give it to public. I had a few ideas of my own on how to use this data and I’d love to find a way of obtaining it without paying a fee (I already paid it by the means of tax and ticket fares).

    With regards to announcements, it’s a bit more complicated. There are blind people and deaf people who use public transport. It has to be accessible by everyone, so the idea is to provide the information to these people in as many ways as possible. It can be intrusive, of course, but if you can find a better way of delivering this information to everybody, it would be interesting to know your thouts on cheap and efficient ways of doing this.

  2. colmmcmullan

    Thanks Tyom.

    In the case you describe, deaf and blind people make up a very small percentage of the overall bus using population. Why not create small handheld devices which vibrate on approach to a particular stop? Or reuse existing devices such as mobile phones.

    For custom built devices, each bus could have half a dozen and you’d request it from the driver when you get on (also telling him which stop you’d like and the device can be programmed to that particular stop). When the device buzzes, you get up and go to the driver to return your device and get off. This also covers edge edge cases where the bus breaks down or whatever since the driver could then inform the person what’s going on.

    Devices like that are cheap to make, in fact so much so perhaps TFL could give them away for free to eligible people.

    In my opinion, the mistake that’s being made is that the interface (announcements) is being designed for the minorities of users, rather than the majority.

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