Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category


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:

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:

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:

DC 311 API – allows developers to create application interfaces to interact with the DC 311 call centre.  For example, the Facebook and iPhone applications ( 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 to make public data generated by Fed Gov’t branches available at a central location.  One application developed to date is 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 including a pretty impressive collection of apps (both web-based and mobile) at: for example for the iPhone to help people find locations to recycle or dispose of “just about anything”.


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

Nanaimo, BC

Already has a pretty rich collection of datasets available on the web:


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:

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: 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):


Announced plans for an open data initiative in July 2009:

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.

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.


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?

Many organizations around the world are demonstrating the business value of engaging in social media, from large multi-national corporations using social media for marketing activities, to small firms engaging their clients more directly, and governments seeking new ways to connect and interact with constituents.

socialmedia-businesscaseDespite the growing adoption rates of social media around the world, many organizations are still reticent, and fail to see the value of it. Governments in particular are struggling with the potential benefit of participating in social media in contrast to the potential for employee abuse. There are many examples of governments using social media while banning access for employees. There is also a perception that websites and tools like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, blogs or wikis are intended strictly for personal use, are time-wasters and not only provide little to no value for an organization, but distract employees or take away from business operations.

Not everyone has the benefit of jumping into social media as an experiment or pilot activity, so here is a simplified framework for developing a business case for social media. This is intended to sketch out some of the key arguments for introducing social media in your organization, and to help you develop a sound business case to present to decision makers. The examples are very brief, while providing rationale, examples, and support to generate an understanding of the argument.

1. Rationale

Describe why the organization should use social media, and the goals and objectives that you’re trying to achieve.  Provide details of the problems, challenges, opportunities or shortcomings that will be addressed by using social media.

Ex: Our clients are complaining about us on blogs & twitter, and not contacting us directly. Goals – increase the satisfaction levels of our clients by establishing a more direct link with our clients and putting a human face on our corporation.

Define the specific details of what the initiative will achieve, change, or impact; and how success will be measured.

Ex: Success could be measured by reduced complaints on blogs & twitter; an increase in sales, or reduction in product returns or complaints.

2. Client-centric perspective

Provide an understanding of how people currently access the organization’s information and services; and how they want to access your information and services (ex: through a survey, or market research).

Get metrics & statistics on your website usage, and search terms used; any supporting general Internet usage statistics; and any statistics and information from competitors. Compare the way you do business online with other organizations (not just your competitors).

3. Risks

(a) Identify the risks associated with the initative, including what could go wrong, and a description of the worst-case scenario.

Ex: Lots of bad comments and reviews on your website.

(b) Identify the risks association with not undertaking the initiative, including what could happen if you don’t engage in social media.  Know your client, and get an understanding of the perception of your business if you do/don’t engage in social media.

The conversation is happening out there anyways – with or without you – the degree to which you engage is optional, but you should at least be aware of the conversation and monitoring it.

4. Business Intelligence

Define the type of functionality required to meet your goals and objectives; meet your client’s needs; and reduce the risks.  Research and describe possible solutions.  Include reviews, case studies, and comparisons.

  • What are others doing?
  • What are the industry best practices?
  • Who are your competitors, and what are they doing?
  • What is popular or trending?
  • What relevant technology advances are happening?

5. Stakeholders

Identify all the key stakeholders who need to be involved in the process of introducing social media to your organization, including:

  • Business clients
  • Communications
  • IT
  • Legal
  • Accessibility
  • Clients, etc

6. Investment

Provide a breakdown of the costs involved, including:

  • People
  • Money
  • IT infrastructure needs, etc.

7. Process, Roles & Responsibilities

Identify the steps that need to happen to introduce social media to your organization.

Developing, piloting, testing, soft launch, public launch, etc?

Identify roles and responsibilities for various aspects of the initiative.

Who will provide support (technical, training), monitoring, facilitating, engagement, etc?

Include a plan for how to monitor and evaluate the success of the initiative – related back to the goals and objectives.

Twitter is an essential business tool – something that adds value to our work, extends our ability to collaborate and connect with other like-minded people, and tap into ongoing conversations that enrich our work.

twitterthumbnailAbout Twitter

Launched in July of 2006, Twitter is a micro-blogging platform that allows participants to send short, concise updates (limited to 140 characters) called tweets.  Twitter uses a shared, centralized platform that provides a constant stream of updates from all registered users; and allows each user to subscribe and unsubscribe (filter) tweets to customize an individual stream of updates from select participants.

Used by many people to share news, updates, insights, commentaries, opinions, and advice, twitter is a great way for people to network.  The value of twitter for professional uses is in selective participation – following people who share and discuss things of direct business relevance; and tapping into a community of like-minded participants.  The tool makes it easy to add or remove people from an individual stream, which allows participants to refine the stream of tweets followed to select only those people providing useful updates.

A February 2009 blog entry ranks Twitter as the third largest social network (behind Facebook and MySpace), and puts the number of users at roughly 6 million and the number of monthly visitors at 55 million. (source:

Example government users

List of hundreds of government agencies using Twitter:

Other business twitter users:

Building relationships

Twitter provides direct connections to live updates from industry experts, leaders, and other industry peers.  For example, members of the e-Media team follow updates from IT and communications people at the City of Toronto who are working on similar projects, and whom face similar daily issues; and from other peers and industry leaders around the world.

Stumbling across new people is easy.  Twitter provides a list of people, with a short profile, that each user is following – mapping relationships – and direct links to the profiles of individually quoted tweets (ReTweets – see below).

The non-hierarchical nature of Twitter  allows connections between anyone, whether they’re a student, company director or president, knowledge worker, or anyone else.  The value of the connections are judged by the quality of the posts, and less by the stature of the account holder.

I have established some very valuable connections through Twitter with people from other municipalities, private sector organizations, and other areas of government.  My relationships with these people have been strengthened by ongoing discussions and exchanges through Twitter.

Tapping into a global knowledge base

The value of collaborative knowledge sharing with a network of people interested and motivated by similar issues can have a massive impact on an organization.  Twitter allows participants to easily share ideas and solutions to problems through the twitter community – by simply sending a request for help through twitter (when you have enough like-minded followers), a range of creative options can emerge.

Ex: “The Awesomeness of Twitter” blog post provides an example of a request made through twitter for a creative solution to a problem, which quickly generated multiple responses and useful suggestions

Access to quick updates

Participants can send and receive up to the minute news updates and live on the scene coverage of events and activities from around the world. Live coverage from conferences, meetings and events could help business users to participate and follow events on their own schedule.

Access to timely and relevant breaking news can be very beneficial to people – for example street closures due to an accident, or alerting the public of a gas leak in a downtown area. The recent crash of U.S. Airways flight 1549 was first reported through Twitter, and live coverage from the event was first broadcast through twitter. The potential to instantly connect with a large group of people and spread news through Twitter is very powerful.

Being a part of the conversation

The Twitter conversations are happening, with or without your participation. People are talking about your organization, and sharing things that are relevant and could be useful to your job. The option is there to tap into this, and to help lead and steer the conversation.  Twitter is not a broadcast only channel of communication.  Anyone can contribute to the conversation, providing alternative perspectives, added-value insights, or challenging conventional thinking through debate.

Retweets and the rapid spread of messages

Messages are quickly and easily shared across Twitter by simply “retweating” (or copying and pasting messages into a new message, preceeded with RT @username to indicate the originator). This practice helps to spread (virtual) word-of-mouth spreading of messages, except that it’s across interconnected networks of participants that otherwise would not be connected to each other.  Each individual has his/her own unique network, and thus messages can very quickly spread between a large number of people “virually” through network inter-connections.


Virtual Participation at Conferences & Meetings

A common, and very powerful example of the value of Twitter is it’s use at conferences and meetings.  Participants often use Twitter to post live updates and capture key points from events, sparking a discussion that extends beyond the physical boundaries of the event venue.  Using a hashtag (ex: #eventname), participants flag messages related to a particular subject or event, allowing anyone to follow that flag using

I learned about ChangeCamp Toronto through Twitter, and as a result of discussions about ChangeCamp on Twitter, decided to participate (in person) at the event.  The recent Web 2.0 Summit organized by the City of Toronto used Twitter to solicit questions and discussion from the live web-cast of events.  I was very active in those discussions, and was able to actively participate in the event from Ottawa using Twitter.

Twitter desktop clients

While Twitter can be accessed and used through a web-browser, a desktop client (such as TweetDeck or Twhirl) extends the functionality and capability of Twitter.  The web-based version requires manual refreshing, and does not flag any new updates.  The search tool runs from a separate website.  The desktop clients integrate search functionality, live updates, direct replies, and other features to delivery more timely information and integrated engagement into a single tool.  The desktop clients also allow for grouping of participants to seggregate and aggregate unique streams of feeds (for example, tweets from Ottawa residents into a single group; and other tweets in a second group).

How else is Twitter valuable to (1) your work on a daily basis; (2) your organization?  What other examples do you feel make a good argument for the value of Twitter?


munigovlogoA few weeks ago I heard about a group of municipal government employees meeting on a regular basis in Second Life.  The group is called MuniGov, and from the description on their website was formed as a coalition of local/municipal governments focused on exploring the use and principles of Web 2.0 in an effort to improve citizen services and communication via technology.”

I thought cool, this is exactly the kind of folks I’d like to connect with to talk about some of the work that I’m involved with on a daily basis.  So I checked out the MuniGov website – a lot of great info about different technologies and how some cities are using them; some good reference materials about web 2.0 & government use of social media; a primer to using Second Life; and the latest tweets from the MuniGov twitter feed.

The group is also organizing “the first virtual conference on Web 2.0 for government, by government”.  The event will take place in Second Life on Friday April 10th from 1pm to 4pm EST, and will include a series of presentations about various web 2.0 initiatives at the municipal government level.  The group has been meeting on Wed evenings to discuss plans for the conference, and I’ve been wanted to attend for some time now, but always seem to have something else happening on Wed nights.

Last night I finally made it to my first MuniGov Second Life meeting:


It was pretty cool, seeing a bunch of cartoonish avatars sitting around a table of “uniquely styled” chairs on a virtual island.  The meeting convener, Bill Greeves IT Director at Roanoke County, aka Greever Wemyss appeared as a wolf, and let out the occasional howl.  Otherwise the meeting was very much like a real-world meeting, except that all the attendees were there from the virtual convenience of their own locales – whether Ottawa, Nanaimo BC, Roanoke County, LaSalle Illinois or any other place around the world.  I think most of the other participants were from the U.S., and incidentally most of the MuniGov members seem to be US or Canada based.

I think the meeting demonstrated an excellent use of virtual communities to bring together like-minded and intentioned people.  Although the meeting was longer than I had expected, I think it was no longer than a face-to-face or teleconference meeting would have been; and it was more powerful in some respects.  (Most) participants were able to chat with voice – some (myself included) did not use voice chat but instead participated using live text chatting; and there was the occassional direct (private) text messages flying around.  So a number of simultaneous conversations could be ongoing without disrupting the meeting.  One of the participants had worked on some logo concepts for the conference, and was able to display them to everyone in-world, and get immediate feedback from the participants.

I’m looking forward to future meetings and discussions with the MuniGov group in SL, and especially looking forward to the virtual conference on April 10.  Maybe I’ll “see” you there?!?

OC Transpo Social Media Mashup

Posted: December 18, 2008 in Uncategorized

I’ve been monitoring the OC Transpo bus strike in Ottawa since it began last Wed Dec 10th; and have been looking for ways to aggregate my various search channels.  Thanks to @NLC_Molly for the reference to the Reputation Monitoring blog post by Randy Woods, I discovered the real value of netvibes (which I had heard of before, but never really took it for a spin).


Netvibes has tools to allow you to aggregate your own social media channels – sharing your facebook profile, youtube videos, flickr photos, etc, in one place.  It also allows you to create a mashup of feeds and searches across the web; and with the right mix of search sources you can create a pretty good survey on the latest blogs, tweets, discussions, news posts, videos and photos being shared on a particular topic.  One shortcoming is the lack of RSS feeds from Facebook walls or discussions… hopefully something coming soon?!?

Check out my netvibes page monitoring the OC Transpo Stike


Any suggestions for other channels or feeds to add to the mix?