5 reasons why the NMBS should have an API

nmbs should have an apiThis weekend I joined the Facebook-group “NMBS should have an API”. The NMBS (or SNCB, for the route planner) and Infrabel (for railtime) have data available that is very relevant for their customers, but this does not really translate in great applications, does it? Wouldn’t it be better for public companies such as the NMBS to focus on exposing their data/ business logic and less on the presentation, allowing 3rd parties to connect to their API’s to create innovative new applications?

Just image what kind of sexy, useful applications that could be created this way. Here’s 5 to start with:

  • A mobile application that can
    • plan your rail-travel based on your current GPS-position and the destination you enter
    • adapting your route while “on rails” in case of delays of current or next train
  • A Netvibes-widget containing basic route planner and railtime funcionality. Netvibes is great by the way, their widgets can be deployed in Netvibes, iGoogle, Live.com and standalone on any site, but also on your Mac OS X and Vista desktop. I build a very simple LinkedIn widget almost a year ago. It’s actually little more then a wrapper around their mobile site, but according to the Netvibes stats it’s installed by more then 1200 users. Great potential!
  • mytrain.be: a personalized website for daily commuters:
    • register and select the train(s) you use on what days of the week
    • receive warnings by mail/ sms in case of delays
    • automatically propose alternative routes in case of delays
  • A sexy mashup of real-time train info and Google Maps, as already seen on http://swisstrains.ch/ (great to look at, not sure it’s that useful though)?
  • A trainusers-application integrating into social websites, allowing you e.g. to hook with fellow-travelers on Twitter or Facebook while on rails?

So indeed, NMBS and Infrabel, give us API’s and enjoy the great stuff that’ll be build on it. And if you’re reading this and you would like to use or develop applications based on such data, join that Facebook group!

6 thoughts on “5 reasons why the NMBS should have an API

  1. Bart Van Loon

    Very interesting! I think you might like one of the new projects I’m working on: The Data Tank ( http://thedatatank.com ).

    We also briefly discussed the NMBS API on http://thedatatank.com/nmbs-should-have-an-api/.

    We should actually take this much further. A common API for all public data sets out there. Imagine what power this would bring to developers all over the world, having this information at their fingertips!

    Nice 5 reasons, by the way. :-)

  2. Bart Van Loon

    yup, but it’s based on real-time scraping of the HTML interface provided by the NMBS.

    nice idea, but not sustainable for a long time or as a business idea.

  3. Dag Wieers

    It’s now almost 4 years since this article was written, and the NMBS still does not have its trainschedules shared with Google Maps. This is a disgrace for both the government and the public transport system in Belgium (mostly the NMBS). If the goal is to promote public transport there is no valid excuse to delay this any longer !


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.