The afternoon Transport For London quietly launched countdown.tfl.gov.uk, a desk-beer was in my hand after our Friday Demos. Countdown tells you when busses are arriving at any of London’s 18,541 bus stops. I was due for a meeting in a pub in 20 minutes, but I thought I’d have a poke around. It quickly became clear that whilst there was not yet an official API for the data, the website itself was running from an internal API. It only took a little bit of playing before I was able to programmatically access the data and within my spare 20 minutes I had written and deployed a tiny web application redisplaying TFLs data.
I had enough to start exploring what’s possible with this data. The simplicity of the website allowed it to work on any device I tried at any size. Where could this service fit best in mine and others lives? With another 20 minutes, auto-refreshing and a bus stop search page, it was ready for the world.
I quickly got feedback from people who had made it into an OS X dashboard widget or added to their iPhone screen. Having it accessible from your pocket or work desk was unsurprisingly but pleasantly very useful.
But what about our friends’ and indeed our own work on media surfaces, secondary screens, information radiators and the like? I’ve always wanted to explore what can be done with the Kindle as a relatively cheap web enabled e-ink display, and it worked on mine straight away. So I taped it to the inside of the BERG office front door.
It sits there, quietly updating every 15 seconds. Not glowing, not demanding attention, only offering it at the quickest of glances. As comfortable as a wall clock. From my limited testing, the 6 month old Kindle can do this for about 48 hours before needing a recharge, a figure I’m sure could be increased with some effort.
The Kindle came home with me that night (soldiering on in my bag with unnoticed updates over 3G). I tried it out in various places. The living room was my first thought, but updates from the big city outside didn’t fit well in there. Maybe, like the office, on the front door might work, but by that point I have already committed to leaving the house. All that told me was how long I was going to have to wait, enforcing the world on me, not empowering me to adapt.
It found it’s eventual home next to my toaster. I’m not a morning person, and my mornings are usually reactive, not routine. I will try and grab breakfast at home, but often end up grabbing a bagel en-route to work. Now my kitchen tells me if I have enough time for toast.
A service involving 8,500 GPS enabled busses and many servers is very impressive, but it really comes into its own when it doesn’t show off.