Monthly Archives: November 2010

Launching Emitter.ca: Open Data, Pollution and Your Community

This week, I’m pleased to announce the beta launch of Emitter.ca – a website for locating, exploring and assessing pollution in your community.

Why Emitter?

A few weeks ago, Nik Garkusha, Microsoft’s Open Source Strategy Lead and an open data advocate asked me: “are there any cool apps you could imagine developing using Canadian federal government open data?”

Having looked over the slim pickings of open federal data sets – most of which I saw while linking to them datadotgc.ca – I remembered one: Environment Canada’s National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) that had real potential.

Emitter-screen-shot

With NPRI I felt we could build an application that allowed people and communities to more clearly see who is polluting, and how much, in their communities could be quite powerful. A 220 chemicals that NPRI tracks isn’t, on its own, a helpful or useful to most Canadians.

We agreed to do something and set for ourselves three goals:

  1. Create a powerful demonstration of how Canadian Federal open data can be used
  2. Develop an application that makes data accessible and engaging to everyday Canadians and provides communities with a tool to better  understand their immediate region or city
  3. Be open

With the help of a crew of volunteers with knew and who joined us along the way – Matthew Dance (Edmonton), Aaron McGowan (London, ON), Barranger Ridler (Toronto) and Mark Arteaga (Oakville) – Emitter began to come together.

Why a Beta?

For a few reasons.

  1. There are still bugs, we’d love to hear about them. Let us know.
  2. We’d like to refine our methodology. It would be great to have a methodology that was more sensitive to chemical types, combinations and other factors… Indeed, I know Matt would love to work with ENGOs or academics who might be able to help provide us with better score cards that can helps Canadians understand what the pollution near them means.
  3. More features – I’d love to be able to include more datasets… like data on where tumours or asthama rates or even employment rates.
  4. I’d LOVE to do mobile, to be able to show pollution data on a mobile app and even in using augmented reality.
  5. Trends… once we get 2009 and/or earlier data we could begin to show trends in pollution rates by facility
  6. plus much, much more…

Build on our work

Finally, we have made everything we’ve done open, our methodology is transparent, and anyone can access the data we used through an API that we share. Also, you can learn more about Emitter and how it came to be reading blog posts by the various developers involved.

Thank yous

Obviously the amazing group of people who made Emitter possible deserve an enormous thank you. I’d also like to thank the Open Lab at Microsoft Canada for contributing the resources that made this possible. We should also thank those who allowed us to build on their work, including Cory Horner’s Howdtheyvote.ca API for Electoral District boundaries we were able to use (why Elections Canada doesn’t offer this is beyond me and, frankly, is an embarrassment). Finally, it is important to acknowledge and thank the good people at Environment Canada who not only collected this data, but have the foresight and wisdom to share make it open. I hope we’ll see more of this.

In Sum

Will Emitter change the world? It’s hard to imagine. But hopefully it is a powerful example of what can happen when governments make their data open. That people will take that data and make it accessible in new and engaging ways.

I hope you’ll give it a spin and I look forward to sharing new features as they come out.

Update!

Since Yesterday Emitter.ca has picked up some media. Here are some of the links so far…

Hanneke Brooymans of the Edmonton Journal wrote this piece which was in turn picked up by the Ottawa Citizen, Calgary Herald, Canada.com, Leader Post, The Province, Times Columnist and Windsor Star.

Nestor Arellano of ITBusiness.ca wrote this piece

Burke Campbell, a freelance writer, wrote this piece on his site.

Kate Dubinski of the London Free Press writes a piece titled It’s Easy to Dig up Dirt Online about emitter.ca

Launching datadotgc.ca 2.0 – bigger, better and in the clouds

Back in April of this year we launched datadotgc.ca – an unofficial open data portal for federal government data.

At a time when only a handful of cities had open data portals and the words “open data” were not being even talked about in Ottawa, we saw the site as a way to change the conversation and demonstrate the opportunity in front of us. Our goal was to:

  • Be an innovative platform that demonstrates how government should share data.
  • Create an incentive for government to share more data by showing ministers, public servants and the public which ministries are sharing data, and which are not.
  • Provide a useful service to citizens interested in open data by bringing it all the government data together into one place to both make it easier to find.

In every way we have achieved this goal. Today the conversation about open data in Ottawa is very different. I’ve demoed datadotgc.ca to the CIO’s of the federal government’s ministries and numerous other stakeholders and an increasing number of people understand that, in many important ways, the policy infrastructure for doing open data already exists since datadotgc.ca show the government is already doing open data. More importantly, a growing number of people recognize it is the right thing to do.

Today, I’m pleased to share that thanks to our friends at Microsoft & Raised Eyebrow Web Studio and some key volunteers, we are taking our project to the next level and launching Datadotgc.ca 2.0.

So what is new?

In short, rather than just pointing to the 300 or so data sets that exist on federal government websites members may now upload datasets to datadotg.ca where we can both host them and offer custom APIs. This is made possible since we have integrated Microsoft’s Azure cloud-based Open Government Data Initiative into the website.

So what does this mean? It means people can add government data sets, or even mash up government data sets with their own data to create interest visualization, apps or websites. Already some of our core users have started to experiment with this feature. London Ontario’s transit data can be found on Datadotgc.ca making it easier to build mobile apps, and a group of us have taken Environment Canada’s facility pollution data, uploaded it and are using the API to create an interesting app we’ll be launching shortly.

So we are excited. We still have work to do around documentation and tracking some more federal data sets we know are out there but, we’ve gone live since nothing helps us develop like having users and people telling us what is, and isn’t working.

But more importantly, we want to go live to show Canadians and our governments, what is possible. Again, our goal remains the same – to push the government’s thinking about what is possible around open data by modeling what should be done. I believe we’ve already shifted the conversation – with luck, datadotgc.ca v2 will help shift it further and faster.

Finally, I can never thank our partners and volunteers enough for helping make this happen.

International Open Data Hackathon Website and Wiki is up

So when I first wrote Let’s Do an International Open Data Hackathon I thought… maybe they’ll be 5 or 6 cities that will want to do one.

That may still be the case, but given the number of visits the blog post experienced and the number of people who registered interest on the etherpad, we may end up with a few more – which would be exciting.

To date people in 33 different cities spanning 16 countries four continents (some really nice guys from India emailed me saying they want to do one, but haven’t connected to the wiki yet) have said they are interested in organizing a hackathon in their home town. Will all of these happen? Who knows. But it is great to see that there is so much interest in an issue that represent an important opportunity.

Exciting.

So, to celebrate the growing interest we’ve launched a website and a wiki to help inform people about the open data hackathon and give them a place to register their interest and organize.

Please, check them out! Feel free to create wiki pages for your cities, to share best practices and ideas on running hackathons, or even just translate materials and content into a parallel page.

When Measuring the Digital Economy, Measure the (Creative) Destruction Too

Yesterday I had a great lunch with Justin Kozuch of the Pixels to Product research study which aims “to create a classification system for Canada’s digital media industry and shed light on the industry’s size and scope.”

I think the idea of measuring the size and scope of Canada’s digital media industry is a fantastic idea. Plenty of people – including many governments – are probably very curious about this.

But one thought I had was: if we really want to impress on governments the importance of the digital economy, don’t measure it’s size. Measure its creative destructive/disruptive power.

In short, measure the amount of the “normal” economy it has destroyed.

Think of every newspaper subscription canceled, every print shop closed, every board game not played, every add not filmed, whatever… but think of all the money saved by businesses and consumers because the digital made their options dramatically cheaper.

I’m not sure what the methodology for such a measurement would look like, or even if it is possible. But it would be helpful.

I suspect the new digital businesses that replace them are smaller and more efficient. Indeed, they often have to be dramatically so to justify the switching cost. This is part of what makes them disruptive. Take, for example, Google. Did you know it only has 20,000 employees? I always find that an incredible figure. These 20,000 people are creating systems that are wiping out (and creating) whole industries.

I say all this because often the digital replacement of the economy won’t (initially) be as big as what it replaced – that’s the whole point. The risk is governments and economic planning groups will look at the current size of the digital economy and be… unimpressed. Measuring destruction might be one way to change the nature of the conversation, to show them how big this part of the economy really is and why they need to give it serious consideration.

Articles I'm Digesting 1/11/2010

Here’s a few articles I recently digested:

Enabling Access and Reuse of Public Sector Information in Canada: Crown Commons Licenses, Copyright, and Public Sector Information by Elizabeth F. Judge

This piece (which you can download as a PDF) is actually a chapter in a book titled: From “Radical Extremism” to “Balanced Copyright” : Canadian Copyright and the Digital Agenda.

This piece provides a fantastic overview on both the how and why Crown Copyright impedes the remixing and repurposing of government information. The only thing confusing to me about the article is that it focuses a great deal on data which, by the author’s own admission, is not covered by Crown Copyright:

With respect to data, Crown copyright does not protect raw data (unprocessed data, such as numbers entered into a database), but it does protect an original expres- sion of the data (for example, an original map is a copyrightable artistic work based on geospatial data) and compilations (including compilations of data), providing that there is an original selection or arrangement of the data (that is, there has been human intervention where skill and judg- ment has been exercised).

Given I often have to explain to government types that data is not covered by Crown Copyright (this is in part why it often has – more restrictive still – licenses attached to it) my only concern about the paper is that because of its strong focus on data it will inadvertently muddy the waters. However, still a good piece and I suspect many who read it will wander away hoping that some change to Crown Copyright legislation will be forthcoming.

The Global Debt Clock by The Economist Intelligence Unit

Few outside of Canada understand how much Canadian politics was dominated by the issue of “the debt” in the 1990s. When Bill Clinton made his first visit to Canada the headlines were more concerned with Canada’s bond rating being downgraded than the visit of the new US president.

The belief, however, that Canada has tamed its debt may be a myth. The challenge may be that it people are starting to wise up to all that downgrading. That the debt has simple shifted from the national (which people historically looked at) to the provincial level (which is rarely calculated into “national” debt). The Economist chart puts things into sharp (and dim?) perspective:

Canada’s public debt: $1,257,953,424,658 or $37,042.44 per person or 82.3% of GDP

America’s public debt: $9,117,200,547,945 or $29,491.12 per person or 62.0% of GDP

Of course Canada’s debt includes health care expenditures which in the United States are (more) born by private citizens, so the debt burden per individual once you factor in private debt may not be closer. But then household debt in Canada is about to overtake that in America so again…

This all said, pretty much every country in the developed world looks ugly in terms of debt… this may, sadly, be the boomers biggest legacy.

Disconnect: Why our politics is so out of touch and what it means for our future by Richard Florida and Jeremy D. Mayer

Written back in 2007 this article deserves a revisit:

“In our view, American politics today is distinguished by one feature: instability. In place of an enduring political force such as post-1896 Republican dominance or the Democrats after Roosevelt in 1932, American politics in recent years has see-sawed back and forth. Twelve years of Reagan-Bush were followed by 8 of Bill Clinton, and then Bush and Rove, now this. And, only 6 of those years saw one party with simultaneous control of the presidency and Congress.

This instability, in our view, stems from one primary source: Our economic system has undergone a tectonic shift, to which the political system is still trying to adapt. Just as our politics was recast a century ago by the forces of the Industrial Revolution, so to is it being reshaped today by the rise of the technology, innovation and creativity as economic forces. The rise of this innovative, knowledge-based Creative Economy is even more significant and more challenging to politics as the Industrial Economy. Today, this sector accounts roughly a third of the American workforce — or roughly 40 million workers – nearly three times the industrial sector and blue-collar working class. What’s more, these creative occupations account for the lion’s share of all wealth generation, accounting for nearly half of all wages and salaries paid in the United States. That’s nearly $2 trillion, or as much as the manufacturing and service sectors combined.

But the creative economy doesn’t just generate phenomenal wealth. It also sorts people across new economic and geographical boundaries and generates inequality between and within states and regions as great as that of the early Industrial Revolution. As a result, we’re living through a period of tumultuous political adjustment.”

and speaking of revisits…

American Backlash by Michael Adams

Offers an alternative explanation regarding the challenges faced by incumbent parties in the US. I remembered this as I was recently reading Wente’s piece about Palin and the Tea Party, where she cites pollster Scott Rasmussen:

“who argues that the major division in the country now is not between the Republicans and Democrats, but between the mainstream public and the political class – the small proportion of the population, perhaps 10 per cent, (including most people who work in mainstream media) that still believes that government tries to serve the public interest, rather than colluding with big business against ordinary people.”

This was, of course, the thesis of Adams book back in 2006. Nice to be ahead of the curve.

Open Data Hackathon page by Volunteers around the world

Hope that there will be a dedicated site for this up this week – have a few people stepping forward on that front. In the interim, please do consider adding you name if you are interested in helping organize one in your city.