This last Saturday was International Open Data Day with hackathons taking place in cities around the world.
How many you ask? We can’t know for certain, but organizers around the world posted events to the wiki in over 50 cities around the world. Given the number of tweets with the #odhd hashtag, and the locations they were coming from, I don’t think we were far off that mark. If you assume 20 people at each event (some had many more – for instance there were over 100 in Ottawa, Vancouver had close to 50, 120+ in New York) it’s safe to say more than 1000 people were hacking on open data projects around the world.
It’s critical to understand that Open data Day is a highly decentralized event. All the work that makes it a success (and I think it was a big success) is in the hands of local organizers who find space, rally participants, push them to create stuff and, of course, try to make the day as fun as possible. Beyond their hard work and dedication there isn’t much, if any, organization. No boss. No central authority. No patron or sponsor to say thank you. So if you know any of the fine people who attended, or even more importantly, helped organize an event, please shake their hand or shoot them a thank you. I know I’m intensely grateful to see there are so many others out there that care about this issue, that want to connect, learn, meet new people, have fun and, of course, make something interesting. Given the humble beginnings of this event, we’ve had two very successful years.
So what about the day? What was accomplished? What Happened?
I think one of the biggest accomplishments of Open Data Day has been how it has become a motivator – a sort of deadline – for governments keen to share more open data. Think about this. A group of volunteers around the world is moving governments to share more data – to make public assets more open to reuse. For example, in Ireland Fingal County Council released data around trees, parking, playing pitches & mobile libraries for the day. In Ontario, Canada the staff for the Region of Waterloo worked extra hard to get their open data portal up in time for the event. And it wasn’t just local governments. The Government of BC launched new high value data sets in anticipation of the event and the Federal Government of Canada launched 4000 new data sets with International Open Data Day in mind. Meanwhile, the open data evangelist of Data.gov was prepared to open up data sets for anyone who had a specific request.
While governments should always be working to make more data available I think we can all appreciate the benefits of having a deadline, and Open Data Day has helped become just that for more and more governments.
In other places, Open Data Day turns into a place where governments can converse with developers and citizens about why open data matters, and do research into what data the public is interested in. This is exactly what happened in Enschede in the Netherlands where local city staff worked with participants around prioritizing data sets to make open.
Local Events & Cool Hacks
A lot of people have been blogging about, or sharing videos of, Open Data Day events around the world. I’ve seen blog posts and news articles on events in places such as Madrid, Victoria BC, Oakland, Mexico City, Vancouver, and New York City. If there are more, please email them to me or post them on the wiki.
I haven’t been able to keep track of all the projects that got worked on, but here are a sampling of some that I’ve seen via twitter, the wiki and other forums:
Hongbo: The Emergency Location Locator
In Cotonou, Benin the open data day participants developed a web application called Hongbo the Goun word for “Gate.” Hongbo enables users to locate the nearest hospital, drugstore and police stations. As they noted on the open data day wiki, the data sets for this application were public but not easily accessible. They hope Benin citizen can use it quickly identify who to call or where to go in emergencies.
Tweet My Council
In Sydney, Australia participants created Tweetmycouncil. A fantastic simply application that allows a user to know which jurisdiction they are standing in. Simply send a tweet to the hashtag #tmyc and the app will work where you, what council’s jurisdiction you are in and send you a tweet with the response.
Mexican Access to Information Tracker
In Mexico City one team created an application to compare Free of Information requests between different government departments. This could be a powerful tool for citizens and journalists. (Github repo)
Making it Easier for the Next Guy
Another project out of Mexico City, a team from Oaxaca created an API that creates a json file for any public data set. Would be great for this team to connect with Max Ogden and talk about Gut.
Making it Even Easier for the Next Guy
Speaking of, Max Ogden in Oakland shared more on Gut, which is less of a classic app then a process that enables users to convert data between different formats. It had a number of people excited including open data developers at other locations such as Luke Closs and Mike West.
Mapping Census Data in Barcelona
A team of hackers in Barcelona mapped census tracts so they could be visualized, showing things, like say, the number of parks per census tract. You can find the data sets they used in Google Fusion Tabels here.
Foreign Aid Visualizations
In London UK and in Seattle (and possibly other places) developers were also very keen on the growing amount of aid data being made available and in a common structure thanks to IATI. In Seattle developers created this very cool visualization of US Aid over the last 50 years. I know the London UK team has visualizations of their own they’d like to share shortly.
One interesting thing about Open Data Day is how it bridges some very different communities. One of the most active are the food hackers which came out in force in both New York and Vancouver.
In New York a whole series of food related tools, apps and visualization got developed, most of which are described here and here. The sheer quantity of participants (120+) and projects developed is astounding, but also fantastic is how inclusive their event is, with lots of people not just working on apps, but analyzing data and creating visualizations to help others understand an issue they share a common passion for: the Food Bill. Please do click on those links to see some of the fun visuals created.
The Ultimate Food API
In Vancouver, the team at FoodTree – who hosted the hackathon there – focused on shipping an API for developers interested in large food datasets. You can find their preliminary API and datasets in github. You can also track the work they’ve done on their Open Food Wiki.
In Victoria, BC a team created a map of local walk-in community services that you can check out at http://ourservices.ca/.
BC Emergency Tweeting System
Another team in Victoria, BC focused on creating twitter hashtags for each official place in the province with the hopes that the province’s Provincial Emergency Program.
Mapping Shell’s Oils Spills in Nigeria
The good people at the Open Knowledge Foundation worked on getting a ton more data into the Datahub, but they also had people learning how to visualize data, one of whom created this visualization of oil spills in Nigeria. Always great to see people experimenting and learning!
Mapping Vancouver’s Most Dangerous Intersections for Bikes
Open Data hacking and biking accident data have a long history together and this hackathon I uploaded 5 years worth of bike accident I managed to get from ICBC to Buzzdata. As a result – even though I couldn’t be present in Vancouver – two different developers took it and mapped it. You can see @ngriffiths‘ here and @ericp’s will be up soon. It was interesting to learn that Broadway and Cambie is the most dangerous intersection in the city for cyclists?
Last year open data day attracted individual citizens: those with a passion for an issue (like food) or who want to make their government more effective or citizens lives a little easier. However, this year we already started to see the community grow – the team at Socrata hosted a hackathon at their offices in Seattle. Buzzdata had people online trying to help people share their data. In addition to these private companies some of the more established non-profits were out in force. The Open Knowledge Foundation had a team working on making openspending.org more accessible while MySociety helped a team in Canada set up a local version of MapIt.
For those who think that open data can change the world or, even build medium sized economic ecosystems, over night, we need to reset their expectations. But it is growing. No longer are participants just citizens and hacktavists – there are real organizations and companies participating. Few, but they are there. My hope is that this trend will continues. That open data day will continue to have meaning for individuals and hackers but will also be something that larger more established organizations, non-profits and companies will use as a rallying point as well. Something to shoot for next year.
As I mentioned at the beginning, Open Data Day is a very decentralized event. We are, of course, not wedded to that approach and I’d love to hear feedback from people, good or bad, about worked or didn’t work. Please do feel free to email me, post it to the mailing list or simply comment below.
Finally, some of you may have noticed I became conspicuously absent on the day. I want to apologize to everyone. My partner went into labour on Friday night and so by early morning Saturday it was obvious that my open data day was going to be spent with her. Our baby was 11 days over due so we really thought that we’d be in the clear by Dec 3rd… but our baby had other plans. The good news is that despite 35 hours of labour, baby and boy are doing well!