Posts Tagged ‘community’


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.

A few weeks ago I was at the MESH Conference in Toronto – an excellent event, well worth attending – where the term community emerged as one of the core concepts being used by many of the presenters.  Other than being a bit peeved at the bastardization of the term community, it was a pleasure to connect with other social media community folks at MESH!  I started reflecting on the concept after hearing many people toss the term around quite losely, and also thinking about the meaning of community in a web-enabled world.

community1Let’s start with the concept… a community is a sociological construct or model which means different things to different people, but at it’s core involves a group of people with identifyable commonalities. Traditionally tied by geographic proximity, in the modern digital era the meaning of community has evolved and changed radically as the degree of virtual interconnectness has increased.

There are core values which are critical to the cohesive bonding required for a group of people to identify themselves as a community. Community affiliation is dependent upon unity or connectiveness among a group of people driven by common values, ethics, and/or interests that are meaningful, identifiable, and which have a degree of commitment from the members.

Etienne Wegner, in defining a Community of Practice, describes a community as having an “identity defined by a shared domain of interest”, with a “commitment to the domain, and therefore a shared competence that distinguishes members from other people”.  It’s the commitment to the domain that I think challenges the concept of community in an online world.  It’s an easy process to join an online group, or be part of an online community; and to participate in that online space.  It’s also easy to quickly disassociate oneself from that space and association, and the bond or commitment to that space could be neglible.  While not all members of a community would necessarily know each other, they should be able to identify and connect with each other in a meaningful way.

Some companies seem to be using the concept of online communities as a marketing move in an attempt to make people feel more connected to their products, and to try to build increased brand awareness and loyalty.  Does this make those groups of online people communities?  I would argue that in most cases no – associating with others online around a particular brand could easily be dependent upon the satisfaction to the brand more than any bond with the group of people themselves.  So if, for example, a member of the Pepsi “community” were to start drinking Coke (or better yet Green Smoothies) instead, then there is no longer an association or commitment to that group of people.  It’s easy to make this brand-change, and the bonds tying people together aren’t founded on common values, ethics or interests.  I can’t picture people who drink pepsi high-fiving each other in the street just because they drink pepsi (or even acknowledging that connection at all).

One of the challenges of cultivating online communities is the ease with which people can dissociate themselves, or just forget about the group of people.  It takes time and commitment around a strong set of core values to build stickiness and depth that bonds and holds a group together as a community.

There are of course many examples of strong vibrant communities that either exist completely online, or are founded in a strong online presence.  The social media community is a great example  – with common values, interests & connections bonding people together, both virtually through various online spaces; and in person at a variety of ongoing events.  The MuniGov community is another great example, which brings people together around shared areas of focus, expertise and values – yet is entirely virtual, operating through Second Life and the web.  We could look to these (and many other) examples for what makes online communities work – in another post!

Of course there are many other issues defining online community – identity, privacy, access, etc, etc… I’d love to hear your opinions on the concept of community in a web-enable world.