De NS spant het paard achter de trein

Een redelijk zachte review van de nieuwe NS-applicatie op Marketingfacts (ook Tweakers).

Reisinformatie ‘nieuwe stijl’ is ook maar een woord om te verhullen dat de manier van informatie aanbieden die de NS hanteert jaren achterloopt en dat ze zelfs actief mensen die zelf dit niveau proberen op te schroeven zoals Trein.app het verhinderen.

De reis app die door de NS uitgebracht is werkt op Java wat mobiel niet het handigste platform is en waar ook niet de interessantste gebruikers zich bevinden. Versies voor iPhone en anderen schijnen nog te komen, maar deze versie heeft al een jaar op zich laten wachten, dus wanneer is erg onduidelijk.

Wat hadden ze dan moeten doen?

Het wil de NS en de andere vervoersaanbieders in Nederland niet aan hun hoofd dat hun core business het vervoeren van mensen is en dat het essentieel is dat de informatie over hun vervoersmiddelen zo wijd en vrij mogelijk beschikbaar is.

Mensen willen waarschijnlijk op ontzettend veel verschillende manieren vervoersinformatie tot zich nemen. Teveel om aan één aanbieder over te laten. Er zijn genoeg mensen die iets kunnen maken, maar het niet makkelijk beschikbaar zijn van de gegevens maakt het te kostbaar en ingewikkeld om aan de slag te gaan.

Als de NS de actuele treintijden en routes vrij zou geven via een API dan zouden de kosten voor andere ontwikkelaars om ermee aan de slag te gaan sterk worden teruggebracht en denk ik dat er een bloei aan interessante applicaties zou ontstaan. In zo’n situatie zouden er wel afspraken gemaakt moeten worden gemaakt in een gebruiksovereenkomst, maar de hoeveelheid controle die de NS op dit moment wil uitoefenen is onrealistisch en contra-productief.

Reisinformatie

9292ov heeft pas iets slimmer maar nog steeds bijzonder kortzichtig een wedstrijd uitgeschreven waar studenten een reisapplicatie kunnen maken. Deelnemers doen wel afstand van al hun rechten (!) en er is hier ook geen publieke databron beschikbaar.

De noodzaak voor publieke data heb ik hierboven al beschreven en een volwassen reisapplicatie vereist een toegewijd team dat eraan blijft werken, niet een situatie waar deze overgedragen wordt aan een andere partij die de capaciteiten mist (want waarom anders die wedstrijd uitgeschreven?).

Usability

Uit de review van Raimo maak ik op dat deze applicatie ook weer nodeloos ingewikkeld is. Waar Trein.app ook de mist in gaat is het dynamisch reisplannen. In veel gevallen is mijn reis nogal flexibel: ik wil op een gegeven moment ‘s avonds weer terug naar Delft maar ik weet niet wanneer. Ik weet dus waar ik heen wil en de applicatie weet al waar ik ben en kan beschikken over een actueel reisschema.

De enige vraag die er voor een gebruiker dan toe zou moeten doen als je de applicatie opstart is: “Waar wil je naar toe?” daarna moet de applicatie me laten zien wat mijn opties zijn. Dit is het simpelste geval wat opgelost moet worden, de rest is extra.

Update: Ik was net op Radio Online waar ik beknopt pleitte voor het vrijgeven van de vervoersgegevens. In het voorbereidende gesprek met Tonie vonden we het al frappant dat bijvoorbeeld Tunesië en Egypte betere Google Transit dekking hebben dan Nederland.

Nimble hulks collaborate

It’s good to see not all newspapers are caught in a stupor the Japanese ones seem to actually be seeing their common interest and making something sort of useful to their readers.

First, it’s nice to see newspapers do stuff which is innovative instead of being stuck in the headlights and waiting to die.

Secondly, this adresses a real problem. On any commute I make with my iPhone, I theoretically can read all the news from the world’s best newspapers instead of grabbing a free newspaper from the box on the station. I’ve done so for a while, but lately I don’t bother anymore.
The reason I don’t bother is that it is too much hassle to lead the newspaper’s awful bloated websites over what passes for 3G in this part of the world, then select what I want to read and then read that. There are too many actions involved and the cognitive load is too great.

A simple app which works like a specialized RSS reader where you can triage for a specified set of newspapers and categories the articles you want to read and then get those in rapid succession would be a godsend.

This Happened Again

Monday I’ll be attending This Happened Utrecht #2. This Happened is organized by Ianus, Alex and Kars as part of the This Happened franchise and the best description I’ve heard is that “it’s like Pecha Kucha with actual content.”

The presentations promise to be interesting again, it’ll be nice to catch up with people and I’ll be writing a blog report of the Q&A sessions. So it would be nice if people would ask questions worth blogging and worth talking about after the event. I’m pretty sure comments will be open.

MIMOA

Of the people presenting I’d already heard about MIMOA. I’m pretty interested in architecture and I gave the site a brief test run.

It’s a great open catalogue (or is it a personal architectural guide?). It’s mostly functional and I saw that they also syndicate their content to for instance the Stylos site. Some of the flows and layouts of the site are a bit jarring and could use fixing but they don’t detract from the core usefulness of the site.

The only thing I’m curious about is whether MIMOA could be used as a tool to bridge the gap between architecture professionals and us naieve end users (or should I say victims) of their creations. The current blurbs and comment system do not really invite to such.

Art in the public space

I started the week out nicely with a lunch lecture from Kie Ellens about art in the public space. It took me some time to properly code it, but it is online finally (and mostly in English):

The architectural student association Stylos is celebrating a lustrum this week, so there were lunch lectures every day, but unfortunately I could only attend the one.

Nomadz and Androids

Biked to the Hague yesterday and spent part of the day coworking at my friends over at Nomadz. Just when I had to leave for our appointment at the notary Peter dropped by and demoed some very cool applications on the Android G1 phone he’d just gotten from T-Mobile.

Here’s a short video demoing the box the phone comes in (and if the box already is this cool, you can imagine what the phone is like):

Android G1 Box from Alper Çugun on Vimeo.

Post Distribution

Today I got the idea and I think I’ve seen spectrum plots like these before but I couldn’t quite figure out where. So I dumped all my blogposts and got into Processing to plot it out. It should look something like this but less ugly:

Temporal Distribution of my Blogposts

It clearly shows when I started blogging on this WordPress in April of 2007 and then how my blogging has become more and more sparse with initially some dense areas and later on some blank ones.

I’ll probably do some iterations on this concept, one with some interaction and another one with blocks aggregated by day of the week.

Corporate obstacles in the Netherlands

I talked with Max Whitney at 25C3 for a bit to learn about how NYC Resistor came to be. The story seems to go something like this:

They find a loft in New York.
They find 9 people willing to plunk down some cash ($1000 each).
They setup a Limited Liability Company.
The LLC subleases the loft from the current leaser on a year contract.
Membership dues and workshop money (and the occasional party) pays the rent on the space.

This story is a stark contrast with what you would need to do in the Netherlands to setup something similar. I know because I’m in the market to expand our current coworking space both because we will be kicked out in April and because we could use some more space for stuff and projects.

So how is this different and much more difficult to setup in the Netherlands? There are a number of factors which contribute to this difficulty.

Zoning

Zoning laws prohibit using something like a loft for commercial/office-like purposes. If you’re doing a startup, the boundary of what is your house and what is your place of work may blur, but in the Netherlands an office is an office and a home is not an office.

Municipalities especially will not want livable houses to be extracted from the housing market and occupied by businesses because a lot of them already face a housing shortage.

Personal investment

People just dropping in some cash to get a space started is probably easier in New York too. One factor Max mentioned was that leases are ridiculously expensive anyway so people are used to paying a lot of money.

But a more important factor probably is that there is a bigger culture in the US of personal investment. What is annoying to startups here is that there are so few European angels. There has hardly ever been a significant internet cashout in the Netherlands and neither do we see a lot of reinvestment happening. On both coasts of the US there seem to be more people with money who are willing to invest it into cool stuff. The vast majority of people with money in the Netherlands are more boring than anything.

Liability

Limited liability companies in the Netherlands are called a B.V. and they require a seed capital of €18’000 to start. This money does not have to remain there but it is still a sizable hurdle. In comparison a British Ltd. costs €100 to setup.

Setting up a Ltd and using that to enter into a lease agreement in the Netherlands would be frowned upon because Ltds have a historically bad reputation.

Another way around this may be to setup a voluntary association or a foundation but to be able to shoulder liability, these would need statutes which need to be acquired from a notary and require a significant fee.

Subleasing

Subleasing spaces in the Netherlands is usually frowned upon especially when the sublessor makes a profit. This is because a lot of houses in the Netherlands are rent controlled and are rented out at half or less of their market value.

This means that a lot of houses are not being utilized to their full market value and that the supply in houses is far too small (and the supply of officeplexes too big). Rather than having the market clear this mess up, we are stuck with this heavily entrenched real estate system.

Lease agreements

Office leases are usually agreed upon for a period of 5+5 years, which mean you get a five year contract with the option to extend it for another five years. This five year contract is in fact meant to protect the lessee from fickleness on the part of the lessor but it does not take into account the fact that businesses may not want to be tied down.

This would not be so much of a problem if limited liability companies were easier to setup (the company would then take on the lease) but I treated that above.

Critical market

To be able to partially fund a space on workshop and party revenues, it helps if there is a large pool of potentially interested people. With the scale of something such as New York that may be possible, it’s a bit harder for us in Delft. We are at the moment somewhat pressed to find a fourth coworker let alone people who’d be willing to pay money to support us.

Concluding

None of the things I mention above are insurmountabel but I think they do in large part explain why Dutch business and venture culture is not as dynamic and booming as that in the US.