Meeting the NMBS

After listening to Michaël Vanloubbeeck on their Internet strategy, he asked us straight away what we thought about their mobile web application. There are three points we thought worth mentioning:

  1. The number of clicks before you can see the right data is about 4 times too much. I only want to click once.
  2. There is no autocompletion on the station names.
  3. There is no button to switch destination and departure station

On top of that we noted that for big phones like most android, maemo/meego, bada and iphone phones, the site was too small. It was a great mobile website optimized for small screens and fast connections. We concluded that they, in comparison to iRail, have a totally different focus. Both approaches are needed however and we need to cooperate on this. The NMBS however responded that their mobile website is aimed to target all phones and anyone, which we can’t agree on. Discussion still open.

The second discussion is one that we started. We are still having difficulties with Stibbe. Stibbe is a respected law firm in Belgium who apparently has been hired by the NMBS to try to close us down. They’re quite aggressive in their approach by sending scary letters that our lawyer (if you read this, thanks for your free support, we appreciate it a lot!) seems to handle a lot  better than we do. They didn’t have a clue about that however. They ensured us however that they will *try* to stop these actions and let us work as we were doing. So the logical question for us is: “Can we hereby officially use your data?”; Yet this seemed to be more complicated as we thought. The real discussion had been started.
The first problem was that for the legal aspect of this we were talking to the wrong people. Personally we still think we are not  doing anything illegal and not one of their arguments makes that statement fall. As they are going to stop their lawyers however, we’re going to assume that there is no-one left to sue us and this has encouraged us to crank up our developing speed. The bad part about this legal story is that they didn’t guarantee us anything and we might get a reply about that matter in quite some time.

Their second problem was that the Internet and mobile devices are changing all the time. And there are so many mobile devices  they don’t know where to start developing. I didn’t really get why they use this against open data, but I guess it might be that they  thought open is just a fad like myspace which will disappear eventually. So this is where I protested heavily and said open data  would be a very good thing to do: they would provide a standard API for the data and provide a standard format. Everyone will be  able to make their app for their phone and their system. For free! Isn’t that something you should be happy with? No they said.  They wanted to be able to delete all the applications that didn’t fit their standard. So I started talking about free market where  people who use a bad app will eventually use another app. Discussion still open.

Some other interesting points:

  • They recognized that they were wrong by using lawyers in the first place without mailing us. They could have filed a bug-report if something did not meet their standards (which was a lot back then, we agreed)
  • They were already planning to provide their own API at some point in the future with a little data in it, to be used under certain conditions.
  • They are not (yet) convinced open data is the future. “It’s not because we’re a public company that our data should be public.”
  • Complaints about iRail that reach the nmbs will be, as good as possible, forwarded to our mailinglist.
  • They think iRail as external API provider is not an option. However, they did not explicitly ask us to stop (nor did they recommend us to continue). They’ll “quality check” iRail and provide us with feedback (probably just the mobile site, not our API)
  • We asked if Nokia could sponsor iRail without being sued by NMBS. That’s a question we expect an answer on in October. They didn’t understand however why Nokia wouldn’t come to NMBS for that instead.
  • They have partners with whom they share data. Partners include MIVB, De Lijn, Google, …
  • They promised they won’t block our IP’s (that’s not something we should be thankful for in fact. In our opinion it would be illegal for them to do so)

I would like to thank the NMBS for inviting us and I hope this will be one of many meetings. We sure did have a lot of arguments but I think that’s a positive thing. We are not satisfied with the outcome of this ffrst meeting, but rumour has it that Rome wasn’t built in a day as well.

Afterwards Yeri and I had a very good and inspiring chat. Keep informed because very soon we will cover you with awesomeness! (we’re serious about this)

Pieter

Yeri

Yeri

-Pieter — Follow me on identi.ca

6 comments

  1. Christopher Ranschaert

    Hi guys,

    Great initiative.
    It might not be a bad idea to contact Neelie Kroes about this as she’s apparently supporting opening up data Europe-wide.

    On her twitter she retweeted the following:

    digiphile Alex Howard
    by NeelieKroesEU
    “Dearest government, please stop making apps”-@maxogden “give us the raw data, we can format it ourselves” #ignitegov #gov20 #opengov

    Maybe worth a thought.

    Best regards

    Chris.

    • pietercolpaert

      Hi Christopher,

      thanks for your advice. We have no idea however how to reach Neelie Kroes. We would be very pleased to have a few words with her though. Maybe we’ll meet on an event some day.

      Pieter

  2. Pingback: Meer concreet: Vervotte beantwoordt iRail « Bon sans nom
  3. Pingback: Meer concreet: Vervotte beantwoordt iRail

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