Nearly time to say goodbye to the "Your MP" Boxee app

The Your Mp app icon - Big Ben*** UPDATE! Now you don't have to say goodbye. The Public Whip has got new people to run it so this app will remain available. There may even be new versions in the future. ***
Sadly due to circumstances beyond my control it looks like I may have to remove the "Your MP" application from the Boxee platform. This is an application I did that was designed for UK users as an easy way to keep up to date with how their Members of Parliament were voting. The application gets a lot of its data from The Public Whip, who recently published an open letter (http://www.publicwhip.org.uk/openletter.php) stating their intention to close down the service as they felt it had become unsustainable. Once this site closes this will of course mean that the "Your MP" app will no longer work and so will have to be discontinued. If the closure goes ahead the last date that the app will be usable is expected to be 27th July 2011. However there may be some hope.

A forum thread about the closure on The Public Whip website has comments from a few people offering to help out with running the site, so there is a possibility it may continue in some form, and thus it is possible the "Your MP" app can be kept working. If you feel you could help them out then why not get involved in the forum thread? If the site does continue I will try my best to keep the application working. I will keep an eye on the situation and keep everyone up to date with what will happen to the "Your MP" app here and on my twitter feed. I am also planning to add some functionality to the app itself to support showing status messages on screen.

When I wrote the app I was trying to explore the idea that TV apps can be more that just about video delivery. Even entering a small amount of information through the remote control can be enough to personalise an app so that the information it provides can provide real value to end user (an idea I also explored in relation to linked data). In this case just by entering a post code the user would be presented with lots of information about their MP and how they were voting. If the MP had a website a QR code could also be shown on screen that could be scanned with a mobile phone so you could read about the MP on a screen closer to you. It was designed to be an experience a bit like checking football score on Ceefax in the 1980s and 90s!

It is probably to say that the Boxee audience is a niche audience, and the "Your MP" app a niche app, so it was never going to get huge user numbers. However I am pretty pleased with the take up. I don't have an accurate way to measure how many people are using the app, but it does provide some clues. The app also gets information from a site named They Work For You (TWFY), but to use this information requires an API key. To save everybody needing to get an API key and entering a big long code on screen I wrote a small server side utility that acted as a proxy between instances of the "Your MP" app and TWFY. This allowed all requests to use my API key, without the need for me to disclose what this API key is (which would be a bad thing). To stop abuse, the proxy app (which runs on Google AppEngine) allocates an access key to each instance of the "Your MP" app that communicates with it, and tallies the number of requests made against that access key. In addition the proxy only allows certain methods of the TWFY API to be called. This is all to prevent misuse of my API key (note it is possible to bypass all of this by supplying your own TWFY API key in a file named twfyapikey.txt in the root of the app, all requests will then be made directly).

So what I know is the number of access keys that the proxy app has allocated. This isn't an accurate indication of how many people are using the app as people might have more than one Boxee installation. Also I have not got any personally identifiable information in the proxy app, which means I can't count how many people are using it! However in less than a year the proxy app has allocated over 1700 access keys, which hopefully means that the number of people who have tried the app is into four figures. I am really pleased with this figure and I hope it shows there is some interest in using the Internet on TV for more than just video delivery.

The app was a very interesting experience to write as it made me think much more about designing applications for the big screen, what I could include and what I couldn't. Hopefully it has shown that this sort of information system could be very useful for the democratic process too, to provide an easy way for people to keep in touch with what their MP is doing in their name, but without having to search out specialist websites (which might put some off). Lastly I hope it shows how useful sites such as The Public Whip and They Work For You are and how the information they provide can be used in new ways.

Hopefully The Public Whip will be saved. If not be sure to have a look at it and the "Your MP" app before they both disappear on July 27th.

Comments

Hey Liam,

I'm trying to get in touch with you but your contact form seems to be broken. It keeps telling me the captcha code is in correct, but I see no captcha or anywhere to fill in a captcha. If you could email me at peter@theshippingguru.com that would be great.

Best,
-Peter

Hi, the contact form is fixed now, thanks for spotting the fault!

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