Back in 2008 I hacked an unofficial api together from the exposed endpoints of the CTA’s bustracker application. This spawned a bunch of CTA applications in the iOS app store, the android app store and created a really neat ecosystem of CTA hackers.

For awhile, nobody but us transit nerds paid attention to this api/hack. However, as more and more apps were built and more and more people used those apps - more people started noticing the benefits from the opening of this “api.”

The API got a number of really good write-ups, particularly about how the API was unofficial and how I went around hacking it. The first (and best) was by my good friend Dan X. O’neil: “The power is not the mashup. It’s the data.”. From here a bunch of really great posts popped up talking about the unofficial API and innovation. Joe Hughes blogged about whether the unofficial API is innovation on borrowed time. Programmable Web summarized Dan’s piece and added some commentary.

In the aforementioned post by Dan O’Neil, He talks about how we visited the CTA and chatted with them about the API. In the world of litigious organizations and scary governments - working with the CTA was awesome. They listened to what I did, asked really solid questions and then told us some of their plans. A lot of what we talked about ended up being included in their official API release. Dan’s brother Kevin O’Neil wrote this relationship and the results up on the CTA Tattler blog: Great example of government-private cooperation: Harper Reed wins award for CTA’s Bus Tracker API.

Interacting with the CTA directly and working with them on their app was great. It really demonstrates how a private citizen can affect the mega government type organization to make things better for the future. I don’t think this is an easy pattern to replicate - but it is something to aspire to when hacking/proselytizing open data and open gov type APIs.

The most recent chapter in this story is that the MCIC awarded me a Data Innovation Award. I was sadly unable to participate in the award ceremony(I was drinking Chu-Hi in tokyo), but I hear it was awesome. Dan O’Neil was able to pick my award and say some words about what we did.

A lot of people helped make this happen. Dan O’Neil was an inspiration and really helped me figure out a strategy in working with the CTA. The CTA itself was awesome - especially Tony Coppoletta and Graham Garfield. Both of those dudes made it easy to work with the CTA and are also sweet guys outside of the CTA.

This has been a really good hack. ;) I am now a data innovator.