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Divvy Shuts Down Inventor's 'Well Done' Mile-Counting App

By Alisa Hauser | September 26, 2013 10:17am | Updated on September 26, 2013 10:27am
 Alex Soble, 24, created an app for Chicago Divvy bike share program called DivvyBrags, which tracked mileage, number of trips taken and other stats. The DivvyBrags app launched Aug. 23 and was shut down Sept. 21 by Alta Bike Share, which blocked Soble's access to its user's data.
DivvyBrags App Maker Alex Soble
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CHICAGO — Collectively, citizen pedalers and tourists have logged 1 million miles and 365,000 trips since Chicago's bike-sharing program launched less than three months ago.

One 24-year-old Web developer, though, was using the ubiquitous blue bikes so much he created an app to track the miles he logged on DivvyBikes. 

"I felt like I had to build this, I was so curious. I love Divvy, and once I started riding it around all day, it got me thinking that I would like to know my mileage," Alex Soble said. 

Soble's short-lived but popular DivvyBrags app was shut down on Saturday by Alta Bike Share, the parent company for Divvy Bikes, which, while describing it as "well done," cited security concerns in third-party access to its data.

 The DivvyBrags interface.
The DivvyBrags interface.
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Alex Soble

DivvyBrags gave Divvy members the ability to track their mileage and share results on social media, which fostered friendly competition and bragging rights on a "leaderboard" showcasing the top pedalers.

Soble, who moved from Wicker Park to the South Loop in July and works out of Blue 1647, a co-working center at 1647 S. Blue Island Ave., said it took him three days to build the now-disconnected DivvyBrags.

Soble's app accessed data from the Divvy website and pulled data with a user's consent. The app required Divvy members to enter their Divvy Bike's user name and password.

"We liked the DivvyBrags app, but unfortunately we can't allow the type of scripted access to our system that the site was using," said Elliot Greenberger, Divvy's Chicago-based director of marketing. 

Launched Aug. 23 and advertised through word of mouth and social media, the DivvyBrags app was used by 192 Divvy members, Soble said.

Soble said he's "hoping to persuade Alta Bike Share to open its application programming interface [API] to the public" so he and other developers can create "a whole ecosystem of apps"  to help customers "make the most of their bikeshare experience."

In an email to Alta Bike Share officials, Soble cited "personal stats, environmental stats, better trip planning, fun contests, and all sorts of other great customer experiences that no one's thought up yet" as ideas for apps.

Currently the only tracking information Divvy makes available to members is a log of their trips, though it has no miles attached to each trip and is not calculated. The only publicly available DivvyBikes data available legally to developers is station-level data, which has fostered the creation of third-party apps such as Divvy Bike Locator.

Greenberger said that "while we don't have a timeline for an API, it's something we'd like to see happen once we're able to devote more resources to it."

Ken Kanno, a Wicker Park resident who used the DivvyBrags app, acknowledged that giving DivvyBrags his password violated the terms of the Divvy website.

Kanno said "curiosity" sparked his usage of DivvyBrags but added that he changed his user password before and after using the app.

Kanno said "it would be cool" if Divvy Bikes provided an app like DivvyBrags but added, "It's not why I give them money. I give them money to ride their bikes and not do analytics of my usage."

Annual members like Kanno pay a one-time fee of $75 to have unlimited use of the bikes, while incurring no overtime fees unless trips are over 30 minutes. Divvy had more than 8,853 annual members as of late Wednesday, Greenberger said.

It's not uncommon for third-party apps, which have grown in popularity, to be shut down. 

In July, Instagram blocked an app called Instance for users of Windows-enabled phones that otherwise couldn't share photos on the social media site.

DivvyBrags users will, no doubt, miss it. Some users of DivvyBrags were so competitive they lamented any days that took them off city streets.

Abby Crisostomo, a 29-year-old urban planner who lives in the Near North neighborhood, had logged 129 miles and was number six on the DivvyBrag's leaderboard before she went on a nine-day vacation.

Crisostomo tweeted, "So sad. My weeklong vacation knocked me off the top 20 leaderboard. Alas, my vacation was worth it."

Crisostomo said she "liked being able to get stats about my ridership so quickly and then to be able to compare it with others in the region."