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Is your subway system a platform?

Monday, December 08, 2008 by Dave Winer.

Does it have an API? Permalink to this paragraph

Funny thought perhaps, or maybe only in the Bay Area -- but our subway system -- BART, has an API. And it's kind of fun. I spent a couple of hours today hacking together an application, it's not all that useful, but one of these days something else will get an API that plugs in nicely and something interesting will happen. Permalink to this paragraph

Here are the docs for the BART API. Permalink to this paragraph

And the docs for the real-time ETA feed. Permalink to this paragraph

And the ETA feed itself. Permalink to this paragraph

Clearly it's a straight dump of the database of the BART trains that are running right now, and the time of their expected arrival at the various stations on the network.  Permalink to this paragraph

I wrote an app that loads the XML into a database on my server once a minute, it's quite quick -- and then it looks for trains that are arriving right now, and sends a tweet saying something like: "The train to Richmond is arriving at the Downtown Berkeley BART station." Permalink to this paragraph

A picture named car.gifThis would generate far too many tweets to be humane, no one in their right mind would want to follow a user that was announcing the arrivals of every train in every station on the BART network, which isn't even that big a network. You can imagine what a PITA that app would be for a subway system like NY or London. Not cool. Permalink to this paragraph

So instead I had it only report on trains arriving from any direction at the three Berkeley BART stations, Ashby, Downtown and North Berkeley. That's a manageable number of tweets. And that suggested a name for the feed: BerkeleyBart. Which sounds like something from a cowboy cartoon or a Henry Fonda western starring Jimmy Stewart and Raquel Welch with Buddy Hackett as the kooky sidekick. Okay enough of that. ;-> Permalink to this paragraph

It's a cute little thing, nothing earth-shaking, but I wonder if it's correct. Next time I'm at a Berkeley BART station I'll check it out and see if it correctly calls the arrivals of trains. Permalink to this paragraph

Also it seems like just the thing Scoble will like. He's into trains and Twitter and really strange things. I've also set it up so it works with FriendFeedPermalink to this paragraph


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A picture named dave.jpgDave Winer, 53, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.

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