How things have changed. Recently the NSW government applauded one of those developers for his mobile app, which has reportedly been downloaded a million times.
However the agency which absorbed RailCorp, Transport for NSW, has now been thrust into the centre of another data controversy, with Fairfax's Ben Grubb reporting a row over how real-time transport data has been released.
The gist of the row is simple. Transport for NSW had worked with PWC to hold the ‘App Hot House’ competition with a limited number of developers to see what they could do with its real-time data.
The outcome was several good apps, which are now available for the public and have been mentioned (some would say promoted) via various Transport for NSW websites, including 131500.com.au.
However the real-time data used in these apps has, thus far, only been made freely available to the developers who won the App Hot House competition. These developers are now selling their apps via mobile stores, presumably at a profit.
In this situation I can see both sides.
Transport for NSW is conservative, risk-averse and feeling its way in the open data space. The organisation has come a very long way in the last three years and is still addressing the culture change and understanding the impacts and potential risks of providing free data to developers to make apps that people rely on.
By selectively releasing real-time data the organisation can maintain a sense of control and address its accountability requirements while studying how it can best make the data more broadly available.
Meanwhile some in Australia's developer community are frustrated that they didn't get picked as part of the closed group granted access to the data. This group has had no opportunity to innovate on or profit from the information, which a select group of 'insiders' was able to be first to market with their real-time timetable apps.
This could be a permanent commercial disadvantage for the bulk of the developer community. The App Hot House winners have time to build experience working with the data and, as we hear regularly in the corporate and start-up space, first-mover advantage is regularly the difference between success and failure.