Archive for September, 2009

opendata2

There are many great examples of governments taking the initiative to share their public data openly.  It’s not a simple matter of just put it online – in order to be useful to people, the data must be (1) appropriate types of data; (2) available in usable formats; (3) owned and maintained by someone – as a reliable data source; and (4) used to create things that are useful and usable to people.  This involves a set of polices, guidelines, procedures, roles and responsibilities, and best practices to create an effective open data initiative.  Here are some examples of the current state of open data initiatives in a variety of governments – I’m sure there are many other great examples missing from my list, and I’d be delighted to learn about other examples – please share them!

Washington, DC

Washington DC is currently THE model for Open Data.  They started by aggregating data into a publicly available collection at: http://data.octo.dc.gov/

Key issues – data needs to have clear owner; maintenance schedule, policies, procedures; common accessible formats; added value is for community to have way to contribute back to the City with app development.

Evolved to Apps for Democracy competition: http://www.appsfordemocracy.org/

Involved a modest amount of prize money awarded to application developers creating new web-based applications that utilized the City’s open data.

A second Apps for Democracy competition (dubbed Community Edition) extended the competition to focus on City problems that could be solved with technology, and to develop 311 online applications to help solve those problems. The 2nd competition has taken the bar to a whole new level with the development of a DC 311 API: http://octolabs.pbworks.com/Open-311-API

DC 311 API – allows developers to create application interfaces to interact with the DC 311 call centre.  For example, the Facebook and iPhone applications (http://311.socialdc.org) were developed using the DC 311 API.

The initiative of Washington has sparked many other Governments to look at sharing their public data:

US Federal Government

The former CIO of Washington (Vivek Kundra) moved on to work with as the US Federal Government CIO, and quickly established the Open Data initiative http://www.data.gov/ to make public data generated by Fed Gov’t branches available at a central location.  One application developed to date is http://www.recdata.gov/ for Federal Parks & Recreation data – it allows you to search by state/activity/etc.  One issue/problem with this dataset is that it’s only Federal Level data, so searching for “New York State” and “camping” returns Federal Parks only, omitting any State park information… next step would be to include state & municipal level data into the mix.

San Francisco

A pretty amazing collection of datasets is available at http://datasf.org/ including a pretty impressive collection of apps (both web-based and mobile) at: http://datasf.org/showcase/ for example http://www.ecofinderapp.com/ for the iPhone to help people find locations to recycle or dispose of “just about anything”.

Vancouver

Recently announced an open data initiative, and already has a Beta website up with some data available in various formats: http://data.vancouver.ca/

Nanaimo, BC

Already has a pretty rich collection of datasets available on the web: http://www.nanaimo.ca/datafeeds/

Toronto

At the MESH Conference in Toronto, April 2009, Toronto Mayor Miller announced the City’s intentions for an open data plan.  Details and timeline (initial datasets released Fall of 09) is available at: http://www.toronto.ca/open/

New York

Gale Brewer, chair of the Committee on Technology in Government of the New York City Council, has introduced a draft law that would adopt open data sharing standards for the city’s government. (Source: EveryBlock.com Blog)

New York City is organizing an Open 311 Dev Camp to bring together community members to discuss development of a NYC 311 API (or possibly a more universal 311 API): http://open311.org/2009/09/announcing-open311-devcamp/

Calgary

Announced plans for an open data initiative in July 2009: http://djkelly.ca/2009/07/open-government-coming-to-calgary/

Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources

Perhaps a great example of how NOT to do an open data initiative, the MNR has a page of “Data available to the general public”, with such useful datasets (sarcastic tone inferred) as Beaver Dam locations between 1976-1996.  Ok, their dataset selection is certainly useful to a select crowd, but to get the data you have to email someone – not good.  http://www.mnr.gov.on.ca/en/Business/LIO/2ColumnSubPage/STEL02_168198.html

Portland, OR

Excellent City Council resolution in support of Open Data & Open Source.

Practical everyday Augmented Reality (AR) applications may be a few years away still, but the potential of AR for everyday applications is big. Especially if you factor in openly available government data.

What is Augmented Reality?

AR is a mashup of a real-world view and external data sources – think of a Heads up Display on a fighter jet, which takes the pilot’s view of the skies around, and augments that view with data about altitude, velocity, etc.

f-16_hud_020410_09

Back down on earth, for those of us not flying around in $Billion aircraft, the possibilities are still pretty amazing.

Instead of a HUD we have mobile connected devices like the iPhone or Blackberry, both of which have GPS to determine location – important for location-specific AR data mashups.  They also have cameras/video to display the “view of reality”; and finally mobile connectivity (Internet connectivity) to live stream data.

There are a few basic applications that showcase the functional possibilities of AR:

The City of London’s Nearest Tube app for the iPhone 3GS from AcrossAir

The NYC Subway iPhone app also from AcrossAir

The Yelp! iPhone app

Now let’s extend the potential of AR across two dimensions – open data; and mobile applications.

Open Data

Governments have lots of data. Lots and lots of data, about lots and lots of different things – much of which could easily be shared publicly (see the excellent collection of datasets on the Washington DC website). Governments do a good job of collecting large sets of data over time. Now let’s imagine sharing all that data freely with the public, in usable formats, centrally located and accessible, and regularly maintained by the data owners to ensure the timeliness and accuracy of the data.

What could we do with all this data? Imagine standing at a downtown corner one morning, a free day open to do anything you want. You decide you’d like to go for a swim at a public pool, after visiting the library, then take your dog for a walk at a park, and finally a skate in the evening (without the dog). An AR app could let you find out the nearest city facilities and parks to your current location, their hours of operation, swim/skate schedules, nearest bus stops, schedules and next bus arrival times; and let you mash it all together to create your own day trip plan, complete with step-by-step directions (ala Google Map directions) – all presented through your AR view of reality. Ok, so this could all be done without AR, and perhaps AR doesn’t add too much value other than the bus info.

Another example, with perhaps better use of AR… You see some graffiti on a bus stop. You take a short video of it, and tag it with some keywords and upload it to the City’s website (all with the single push of a button from your mobile, using the City Report a Problem App). The City graffiti cleanup team is currently driving around the city with their gear, and your new problem appears off in the horizon on their HUD. The problem is added to their route map, which is automatically updated with the optimal route to fix a number of reported problems. After removing the graffiti, the crew takes a new picture/video, uploads the completion report to the City website; and the citizen receives a notification with pic/video showing the completed work. Now imagine this for potholes, damage, dead trees, etc, etc. People could virtually “tag” problems; and see that others have also tagged a problem; then view when things are fixed.

Mobile Applications

So not everyone has an iPhone – for some bizarre reason. And, honestly, while the iPhone is great, it’s not really the ideal AR tool. How about having an AR feature embedded into your sun glasses, or akin to the HUD on your car’s windshield (ok, perhaps some driver safety concerns there – on the passengers side!); or using nano-technology, how about an AR-enabled set of contact lenses?

The concept is simply to mesh together our view of the real world with data to modify or enhance that view.  Once governments release and maintain it’s data openly, it won’t take long for someone to come up with an iPhone app that takes advantage of the data, and the technology of mobile devices.

What AR app would you like to see coming to iTunes soon?