Empty victories

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘philliefan99’

Today’s WaPo includes a story about WMATA deciding to put their information up on the web. The rational response from someone who isn’t a transit foamer or mega-nerd is  “isn’t it there already?” Yes, though not in the universal interchange format that would allow anyone with the will and ability to massage and repackage it – till now you’ve had to make use of WMATA’s website and tools rather than 3rd party options like using the transit calculator built into Google Maps.

Now that they’ve done this…. you’ll likely still have to use WMATA’s website. Whys and wherefores after the jump.

The problem isn’t detailed till late into the WaPo story, though in fairness it’s not yet certain what the upshot of this is going to be. I’ve rarely been surprised when predicting a WMATA fumble so I am assuming the worst, but the WaPo is practicing traditional journalism here and not reading between the lines. Plus this way they’ll get to run another article in a month about how progress is stalled.

For example, users must agree to exempt the transit agency from liability, something Google was unwilling to accept, Metro officials said. If, for example, corrupt data affected a user’s computer system, Metro would not be held liable, officials said. Google officials declined to comment.

Here’s my analysis: WMATA’s decided to kick this ongoing negotiation for compensation into the public sphere by releasing the information but placing limits on it that they know Google will find unacceptable. Now instead of being beat up over refusing to do what’s in the best interest of their customers they’ll get to play the innocent and say golly, we tried to do what people wanted but Google wasn’t happy with that. Now WMATA can continue to try to squeeze some money out of Google, but instead of being paid for the data they’ll theoretically be paid to waive requiring Google to indemnify them.

Some support for this theory can be found in WMATA’s own press release, which in addition to the admission about revenue streams at the end, has a little bit of stumping in it.

“We have received requests for this information by a corporate entity. However, we felt that instead of making our data available to just one corporate giant on an exclusive basis with legal restrictions on us, we decided to make it available to everyone with no legal or financial risks to Metro,” said Moneme.

We’re not privy to what the private negotiations have been between Google and WMATA, so it’s hard to say for sure what was asked of who. However WMATA’s implication that Google pressed them to make exclusive arrangements with them is tough to reconcile with Google’s informational page for transit partners, which says that partners have to provide the information online – in Google’s openly published format – but makes no mention of requiring that it be restricted to Google’s viewing.

In fact that seems to be contrary to how other transit authorities who are already participating are behaving. The page providing information about the feed format has links on the left-hand side to the open feeds from Portland and other cities and they have a comprehensive page with information on everyone they know of offering feeds. Portland and Dallas, the two I checked, both have terms of use documents. Portland’s includes a disclaimer of liability. However the difference seems to be that there’s no requirement to agree to those terms before grabbing the data.

On top of that there’s the inane quote in the WaPo story. ” If, for example, corrupt data affected a user’s computer system, Metro would not be held liable, officials said.” Google’s transit format requires nothing more than specifically formatted text. There’s effectively no way for it to “affect a user’s computer” in any way other than being useless. This statement is nonsense, and in any other situation I’d just assume ignorance. Piled on top of the other shenanigans and deceptive implications it looks like fear mongering.

Quit jerking around, WMATA. Fairfax got their bus data in, you should too.

Well I used to say something in my profile about not quite being a “tinker, tailor, soldier, or spy” but Tom stole that for our about us page, so I guess I’ll have to find another way to express that I am a man of many interests.

Hmm, guess I just did.

My tastes run the gamut from sophomoric to Shakespeare and in my “professional” life I’ve sold things, served beer, written software, and carried heavy objects… sometimes at the same place. It’s that range of loves and activities that makes it so easy for me to love DC – we’ve got it all.


2 thoughts on “Empty victories

  1. Heheh, “transit foamer”? That’s a new one. I kinda like it, maybe I’ll start calling myself that. :-)