Remember the live Tube map, which shows where every train on the network is lurking in glorious realtime? It’s throwing a wobbly at the moment, thanks to the unexpected, overwhelming demand for the data behind it.
One of the biggest stories on the web at the moment is the ongoing crusade to open up government data (any data) for anyone to whip up into a useful (or useless, but pretty) visualisation or application. So, for example, our rulers released data on the location and frequency of ASBO slapping (ASBOs are always ‘slapped’ on people – do some data mining of newspaper headlines to verify); within hours, some clever datasmiths had hacked together the ASBOrometer – a handy guide for chav-dodging home buyers. There are many similar examples.
The frenzy surrounding this ‘data lib’ is taking those housing the data by surprise. Our local stats hub, the London Datastore, is right now suffering indigestion. Specifically, the much-manhandled feed of realtime Tube data has been suspended, thanks to too many people making good use of it. To quote the official message:
Owing to overwhelming demand by apps that use the service, the London Underground feed has had to be temporarily suspended. We hope to restore the service as soon as possible but this may take some days. We will keep everyone informed of progress towards a resolution.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s hardly big news. But clearly there’s now a huge appetite for raw data on the ostensibly mundane. Using naked numbers to tell stories might just be the first great art form of the 21st Century.