Tag Archives: cool links

What I'm Digesting: Good Reads from the First Week of January

Government Procurement is Broken: Example #5,294,702 or “The Government’s $200,000 Useless Android Application” by Rich Jones

This post is actually a few months old, but I stumbled on it again the other day and could help but laugh and cry at the same time. Written by a freelance computer developer, the post traces the discovery of a simply iphone/android app the government paid $200,000 to develop that is both unusable from a user interface perspective and does not actually work.

It’s a classic example of how government procurement is deeply, deeply broken (a subject I promise to write more about soon). Many governments – and the bigger they are, the worse it gets – are incapable of spending small sums of money. Any project, in order to work in their system, must be of a minimum size, and so everything scales up. Indeed simply things are encouraged to become more expensive so that the system can process them. There is another wonderful (by which I mean terrifying) example of this in one of the first couple of chapter of Open Government.

How Governments Try to Block Tor by Roger Dingledine

For those who don’t know what Tor is, it’s “free software and an open network that helps you defend against a form of network surveillance that threatens personal freedom and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security known as traffic analysis.” Basically, if you are someone who doesn’t want anyone – particularly the government – seeing what websites you visit, you need Tor. I don’t think I need to say how essential this service is, if say, you live China, Iran or Syria or obviously Egypt, Libya, Tunisia or any of the other states still convulsing from the Arab Spring.

The hour and 10 minute long speech is a rip roaring romp through the world of government surveillance. It’s scary than you want to know and very, very real. People die. It’s not pretty but it is incredible. For those of you not technically inclined, don’t be afraid, there is techno-babble you won’t understand but don’t worry, it won’t diminish the experience.

The Coming War on General Computation by Cory Doctorow

Another video, also from the Chaos Communication Conference in Berlin (how did I not know about this conference? pretty much everything I’ve seen out of it has been phenomenal – big congrats to the organizers).

This video is Cory Doctorow basically giving everybody in the Tech World a solid reality check the state of politics and technology. If you are a policy wonk who cares about freedom of choice, industrial policy, copyright, the economy or individual liberty, this strikes video is a must view.

For those who don’t know Cory Doctorow (go follow him on Twitter right now) he is the guy who made Minister Moore look like a complete idiot on copyright reform (I also captured their twitter debate here).

Sadly, the lunacy of the copyright bill is only going to be the beginning of our problems. Watch it here:

Articles I'm Digesting: Feb 28th, 2011

Been a while since I’ve done one of these. A surprising amount of reading getting done in my life despite a hectic schedule. In addition to the articles below, I recently finished Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus (solid read) and am almost done Kevin Kelly’s What Technology Wants, which, is blowing my mind. More on both soon, I hope.

Why Blogs (Still) Aren’t Dead…No Matter What You’ve Heard by Kimberly Turner

I got to this via Mathew Ingram of GigaOM. A few months ago there was some talk about the decline of blogs. You could almost hear the newspaper people rubbing their hands with glee. Turns out it was all bogus. This article outlines some great stats on the issue and lays out where things are at, and why the rumor got started. The sooner than everyone, from the newspaper writer, to the professional blogger, to the amateur blogger to the everyday twitterer accepts/realizes they are on the same continuum and actually support one another, the happier I suspect we’re all going to be.

The Inside Story of How Facebook Responded to Tunisian Hacks by Alexis Madrigal

Totally fascinating and fairly self-explanatory:

By January 5, it was clear that an entire country’s worth of passwords were in the process of being stolen right in the midst of the greatest political upheaval in two decades. Sullivan and his team decided they needed a country-level solution — and fast…

…At Facebook, Sullivan’s team decided to take an apolitical approach to the problem. This was simply a hack that required a technical response. “At its core, from our standpoint, it’s a security issue around passwords and making sure that we protect the integrity of passwords and accounts,” he said. “It was very much a black and white security issue and less of a political issue.”

That’s pretty much the stand I’d like a software service to take.

Work on Stuff that Matters: First Principles by Tim O’Reilly

Basically, some good touch stones for work, and life, from someone I’ve got a ton of respect for.

Love and Hate on Twitter by Jeff Clark

Awesome visualizations of the use of the words love and hate on twitter. It is amazing that Justin Bieber always turns up high. More interesting are how brands and politicians get ranked.

The Neoformix blog is just fantastic. For hockey fans, be sure to check out this post.

Lazy Journalist Revealer. This. Is. Awesome.

Everybody keeps thinking that transparency and improved access to content is something that is only going to affect government, or, maybe some corporations.

I’ve tried to argue differently in places like this blog post and in Taylor and I’s chapter in The New Journalist.

Here’s a wonderful example of how new tools could start to lay more bare the poor performance of many newspapers in actually reporting news and not simple regurgiatating press releases.

Check out the site – called Churnalism.com – that allows you to compare any UK news story against a database of UK press releases. Brilliant!

Wish we had one of these here in North America.

Found this via the Future Journalism Project, which also links to a story on the Guardian website.

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.

Links from Gov2.0 Summit talk and bonus material

My 5 minute lightening fast jam packed talk (do I do other formats? answer… yes) from yesterday’s Gov2.0 summit hasn’t yet been has just been posted to youtube. I love that this year the videos have the slides integrated into it.

For those who were, and were not, there yesterday, I wanted to share links to all the great sites and organizations I cited during my talk, I also wanted to share one or two quick stories I didn’t have time to dive into:

VanTrash and 311:

Screen-shot-2010-09-09-at-3.07.32-AM-1024x640As one of the more mature apps in Vancouver using open data Vantrash keeps being showing us how these types of innovations just keep giving back in new and interesting ways.

In addition to being used by over 3000 households (despite never being advertised – this is all word of mouth) it turns out that the city staff are also finding a use for vantrash.

I was recently told that 311 call staff use Vantrash to help trouble shoot incoming calls from residents who are having problems with garbage collection. The first thing one needs to do in such a situation is identify which collection zone the caller lives in – turns out VanTrash is the fastest and more effective way to accomplish this. Simply input the caller’s address into the top right hand field and presto – you know their zone and schedule. Much better than trying to find their address on a physical map that you may or may not have near your station.

TaxiCity, Open Data and Game Development

Another interesting spin off of open data. The TaxiCity development team, which recreated downtown Vancouver in 2-D using data from the open data catalog, noted that creating virtual cities in games could be a lot easier with open data. You could simply randomize the height of buildings and presto an instant virtual city would be ready. While the buildings would still need to be skinned one could recreate cities people know quickly or create fake cities that felt realistic as they’d be based on real plans. More importantly, this process could help reduce the time and resources needed to create virtual cities in games – an innovation that may be of interest to those in the video game industry. Of course, given that Vancouver is a hub for video game development, it is exactly these types of innovations the city wishes to foster and will help sustain Vancouver’s competitive advantage.

Links (in order of appearance in my talk)

Code For America shirt design can be seen in all their glory here and can be ordered here. As a fun aside, I literally took that shirt of Tim O’Reilly’s back! I saw it the day before and said, I’d wear that on stage. Tim overheard me and said he’d give me his if I was serious…

Vancouver’s Open Motion (or Open3, as it is internally referred to by staff) can be read in the city’s PDF version or an HTML version from my blog.

Vancouver’s Open Data Portal is here. keep an eye on this page as new data sets and features are added. You can get RSS feed or email updates on the page, as well as see its update history.

Vantrash the garbage reminder service’s website is here. There’s a distinct mobile interface if you are using your phone to browse.

ParkingMobility, an app that crowdsources the location of disabled parking spaces and enables users to take pictures of cars illegally parked in disabled spots to assist in enforcement.

TaxiCity, the Centre for Digital Media Project sponsored by Bing and Microsoft has its project page here. Links to the sourcecode, documentation, and a ton of other content is also available. Really proud of these guys.

Microsoft’s Internal Vancouver Open Data Challenge fostered a number of apps. Most have been opensourced and so you can get access to the code as well. The apps include:

The Graffiti Analysis written by University of British Columbia undergraduate students can be downloaded from this blog post I posted about their project.

BTA Works – the research arm of Bing Thom Architects has a great website here. You can’t download their report about the future of Vancouver yet (it is still being peer-reviewed) but you can read about it in this local newspaper article.

Long Tail of Public Policy – I talk about this idea in some detail in my chapter on O’Reilly Media’s Open Government. There is also a brief blog post and slide from my blog here.

Vancouver’s Open Data License – is here. Edmonton, Ottawa and Toronto use essentially the exact same thing. Lots that could be done on this front still mind you… Indeed, getting all these cities on a single standard license should be a priority.

Vancouver Data Discussion Group is here. You need to sign in to join but it is open to anyone.

Okay, hope those are interesting and helpful.

Are you a Public Servant? What are your Open Data Challenges?

A number of governments have begun to initiate open data and open government strategies. With more governments moving in this direction a growing number of public servants are beginning to understand the issues, obstacles, challenges and opportunities surrounding open data and open government.

Indeed, these challenges are why many of these public servants frequent this blog.

This is precisely why I’m excited to share that, along with the Sunlight Foundation, the Personal Democracy Forum, Code for America, and GovLoop, I am helping Socrata in a recently launched survey aimed at government employees at the national, regional and local levels in the US and abroad about the progress of Open Data initiatives within their organization.

If you are a government employee please consider taking time to help us understand the state of Open Data in government. The survey is comprehensive, but given how quickly this field and the policy questions that come with it, is expanding, I think the collective result of our work could be useful. So, with that all said, I know you’re busy, but hope you’ll consider taking 10 minutes to fill out the survey. You can find it at: http://www.socrata.com/benchmark-study.

Creating Open Data Apps: Lessons from Vantrash Creator Luke Closs

Last week, as part of the Apps for Climate Action competition (which is open to anyone in Canada), I interviewed the always awesome Luke Closs. Luke, along with Kevin Jones, created VanTrash, a garbage pick up reminder app that uses open data from the City of Vancouver. In it, Luke shares some of the lessons learned while creating an application using open data.

As the deadline for the Apps for Climate Action competition approaches (August 8th) we thought this might help those who are thinking about throwing their hat in the ring last minute.

Some key lessons from Luke:

  • Don’t boil the ocean: Keep it simple – do one thing really, really well.
  • Get a beta up fast: Try to scope something you can get a rough version working in day or evening – that is a sure sign that it is doable
  • Beta test: On friends and family. A lot.
  • Keep it fun: do something that develops a skill or let’s you explore a technology you’re interested in