SeattleBus Diary: finding the nearest stop

Finding the nearest stop was one of those things I just couldn’t pass up when I was designing SeattleBus. The iPhone includes some really nice geolocation API’s (meaning any iPhone application can potentially look up where you are). Apple’s set it up so you have to approve the application getting that information first though – sometimes that’s handy, but other times I think it’s darned annoying. Hey – it’s what Apple’s given us to work with here. On the whole, I’d rather someone be bothered a few times and know the application was using their location than not.

The goal of SeattleBus is first and foremost to provide real-time arrival information for stops. Finding the stops is, to some extent, secondary – but also the critical “first step” to being able to look up that realtime arrival information. Getting the geolocation for the stops was quick a challenge. I started reverse engineering the stops myself using Google’s geolocator API – it was clear enough I was going to have a long ways to go with that to make it really smooth. Metro Transit wasn’t providing the information (I’ve since started talking with them – maybe we’ll get some better data soon) – but in the mean time Adam Parast was great enough to share the same data he used to make a Google Map’s layout of all the bus stops – a mashup of Maps and MyBus.org.

So choosing the nearest stop turns out to be an interesting challenge. The geolocation API isn’t 100% accurate, so choosing a stop is really determining a list of tracked locations that are close. I thought about making a preference that someone could set, but one of the feedback components I received early on was to find and set a good default right off the bat.

I set a good default for the downtown locations, but with the release of 1.0 I’m afraid that it’s just too tight a lookup area for some of the outlying areas of those stops. If you check out Adam’s mashup, you’ll see there’s a huge density downtown and then it gets a LOT more spread out from there. So for version 1.1, I’m changing that lookup sequence a bit. When you’re in the downtown corridor (dense with tracked stops), the range for looking up stops will be pretty tight – maybe a couple of blocks. And when you’re outside of that area, I’ll loosen it up quite a bit.

Part of making this process better is getting better geolocation data for those stops too – I’m working on that now… The release of SeattleBus managed to get Metro’s attention, so we’ve got a conversation started there where I wasn’t able to get anyone’s attention earlier. Here’s to some more and interesting collaborations! (we’ll see what comes of it)

4 thoughts on “SeattleBus Diary: finding the nearest stop

  1. Hey Joe, don’t let those reveiwers get you down. The front page of your app says 0 downloads, which I’m sure isn’t entirely true, which means those guys are just a bunch of whiners. I’m gonna get your app after having read your blog and seeing how much you’ve done with the app. I’m especially encouraged by the fact you want to improve it. I would encourage you to talk about the future features you hope to include in your app summery. That should take some of the fear out of buying your app. A lot of people like me need this and my only hesitation was that you might lose motivation and quit deveolpment. Keep up the good work man. (and get that google map thing kick’n, that would be awesome). Cheers!

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  2. Hey Joe,

    I couldn’t find your email so here’s a comment. I’m a grad student at UW who has been working on some transit tools along with Adam (that guy knows everyone it seems). Check them out at http://onebusaway.org/

    Specifically, I’ve gotten a dump of the Metro KC transit database and used it to implement MyBus at the stop-level. This then gets exposed through a variety of services: touch-tone phone, website, and iPhone-optimized web client. The short of it is that I’ve probably done a lot of the work already that you’re about ready to embark on (assuming you just got an email from Stephen Krippner or someone else at Metro). Maybe we can join forces and save each other some effort? Drop me an email if you are interested.

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  3. Joe, I’m excited to see you’re making improvements to the MyBus app! I’m going to wait just a bit more [for find functionality, default bus and stop info, integration with maps to show how to get to the nearest stop via walking?? that’d be cool etc.] and then I’ll push on all my friends to get it! For me, the price point is still an issue. But like Tim said above, it’s GREAT that you’re working on it. Keep it up, it’ll pan out. 🙂

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