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The Invisible Web – Maitland Waters

I’ve been working professionally in the digital space for over 16 years starting in the early days of the web in 1994.   I’m now firmly entrenched in one of Europe’s top Social Media consultancies. 90:10 Group based in London with offices in Spain, France, Germany and Italy.  We provide advice to Europe’s leading brands.

90:10 Group

We’ve gone through some exciting times since 1994 and I can pinpoint about 3-4 major crossroads when the internet connected in a serendipitous organic intersection that was beyond the control of any particular person or company.  Pure synchronicity.  When technology becomes an organism.  Finding the most efficient path.  Like a river finding it’s way to the sea. Over the next few weeks i’m going to be blogging about some of those special moments and what it means for the future of the web.

Naturally, over the years people frequently ask me:  “What will the web look like in 3 years”.  In the last few years I’ve always answered this question with something along the lines of:

The web will be interactive, exciting, personalized, fast, social, always on and media rich.

Innovations powering this view included:  Broadband, browser ubiquity, web standards, RSS (real simple syndication) and the unprecedented universal business and consumer adoption of all things digital.

As many people know, I’m a huge fan of widgets and mobile apps like http://www.trafficwatch.co.nz.  Even with innovations like the iPad, I was still locked in a “version of the web” confined by the web browser.  (or “browser like” native apps)

Until now.

With the launch of the London Barclays bike rental scheme we are finally living in a web connected world.

An invisible web.   Like electricity.  You don’t see it.  It just works.

While most people are focused on the health and environmental benefits of the bike scheme, I’m fascinated with the technology which is enabling this real world implementation and radical web innovation.
We are smack bang in the middle of a huge crescendo of web innovation.    At the heart of it is API development.
I’m going to be talking more in future posts about the power of the API.    The API is changing the web as we know it.

Before I lose you with Acronyms.  API stands for Application Programming Interface

API – BORING?    no.  Is a DVD boring?   Don’t let an acronym turn you off.

While it might sound like it just for programmers it’s changing EVERYTHING on the web.
Practically ever major website is heavily investing in API development and I’d venture to say that if you don’t develop an API your website will be an island and WILL NOT be relevant in the future web.

Here is a great post on the rise of API culture.
Let’s take a closer look at the London Barclay’s Bike program:

The activity:  Biking around town:
The analogue solution :

Analogue Cycling

Analogue Bicycle Solution

You need to:

  • Have a desire to bike to work or home.
  • Research a bike.  Ask experts, surf the web, talk to friends and purchase a bike.
  • Invest hundreds of pounds in your shiny new bike.
  • Buy security equipment to protect your new investment.  Locks, codes, keys, and chains.
  • Carry your seat and any other items which could be stolen with you around town and into your office when you leave your bike.
  • Bring your bike up to your office?
  • Find a place to park your bike.  lock it to a pole only to get it removed or receive a ticket.
  • Have bike stolen.  Inevitable.
  • Forget where you parked your bike.  (pub culture) ;-)
  • Catch a ride home and leave your bike. (The Round Trip problem)
  • Damage, Puncture or technical malfunction of your bicycle.

The Digital Solution =  “None of the above”.

London Barclays Bike Scheme
Digital Solution: London Barclays Bike Scheme

Here is why:

The proposition is simple and easy to understand.  There is no commitment.  Check it out on the Transport for London Website.

I’ve subscribed to the program at practically no cost and I can dip in and dip out of the program as little or as much as I want.

The Bike Stations / Docks are wired and web connected.

There is an API for developers to develop apps which can be openly and freely used to develop useful web and mobile solutions.
Mobile Apps connect to the web which connects to the bike stations.

Apps tell me where the nearest bike station is.  Apps tell me if the rack is empty or full using GPS and mapping based on my current location.

If you do have a puncture or problem wiht a bike, you park it and hit the button letting the system know maintenance is required.  and take a fresh bike!

My mobile device  is now the most important possession in my life.  More important than my wallet or my ID.  Something I carry everywhere.  It’s my beacon to determine where / when I can pick up or drop off a bike.  It also serves as a map and timer to enable me to stay under the free 30 mintures.  I also have been a big fan of Map My Tracks which tracks my physical activity.

This is the new web.   The invisible web.  The web is seamlessly integrated into our lives.  minute by minute.  it’s always on.  It’s always with us.  It provides value way beyond what we would pay for such services.   Value that pays for the your phone many times over.
Parents spent $2,000+ on Encyclopaedia Britannica set in 1988 now the iPhone/iPad version costs only $19.99.  Today a single app can pay for the entire value of your iphone or android device.

I’m excited to see this kind of innovation taking place.  It’s just the first taste of what’s to come.

Open source, API, crowd sourcing and mobility all being driving forces behind innovation.   No single company or no single person knows more than the crowd. A mantra we believe in at 90:10 Group

More to come.    For now, get on your bike!

For some more stunning examples of data use and API development specifically around the London Bike program check out:

http://data.london.gov.uk/datastore/inspirational-uses

London Barclays Bike Scheme
London Barclays Bike Scheme Apps
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