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NextBus: a mobile poster child

I think that NextBus is a fantastic example of a mobile application. This website, which you can access via your mobile phone, tells you when the next bus, on a particular line, is coming. So, if you’re out and about and have had a bit much to drink, or if you’ve just forgotten your bus schedule, you can visit their site and find out when the next bus will be at your stop. It’s very useful.

This is almost a perfect application for a mobile phone. The information needed is very time sensitive and yet is easy to display on a mobile phone (no graphics or sophisticated data entry needed). NextBus has a great WAP interface, which probably displays well on almost every modern phone. The information is freely available (at least, information on when the next bus is supposed to arrive is freely available–and this is a good substitute for real time data).

And yet, there are profound flaws in this service. For one, it abandons a huge advantage by not knowing (or at least remembering) where I am. When I view the site to find out when the 203 is coming by next, I have to tell the site that I’m in Colorado, and then in Boulder. The website is a bit better, remembering that I am an RTD customer, but the website is a secondary feature for me–I’m much more interested in information delivered to my phone.

Also, as far as I can tell, the business model is lacking (and, no, I haven’t examined their balance sheets). I don’t know how NextBus is going to make money, other than extracting it from those wealthy organizations, the public transportation districts. (Yes, I’m trying to be sarcastic here.) They don’t require me to sign in or pay anything for the use of their information, and I see no advertising.

So, a service that is almost perfect for the mobile web because of the nature of the information it conveys (textual and time sensitive) is flawed because it’s not as useful as it could be and the business model is up in the air. I can’t imagine a better poster child for the mobile Internet.