Bikes, API’s and the ‘fallacy of open data’

Even though they are considered an open data project, “Less than 10% of our feeds come from properly licensed, documented and machine-readable feeds.” That’s the startling stat from Lluís Esquerda the brains behind CityBik.es.

CityBik.es provides an open api for bike sharing schemes from over 400 cities but Esquerda notes that of the “remaining 90% is composed of 188 feeds that are machine-readable, but not licensed nor documented and 230 that are entirely maintained by scraping HTML pages.”

That’s right scraping web pages!

As the citybike website notes:

“this is not exactly open data as we acquire this information using many tricks. This is how the reality would look like if everything was open, but the world is not open yet. Not linking us means this message getting lost on its way.”

The whole post is an interesting read that shows how fast a service can grow but the key takeaway is that providers, and city councils in particular,  really need to focus on the data not the flashy app. In doing that they can really release the innovative power of open data:

“CityBikes is just too good of an open data metaphor, a simulation in which public information is freely accessible to everyone. It shows the benefits of open data and the deficiencies that arise from the lack thereof.”

Worth a read.