As some of you saw yesterday via Twitter, Vancouver has launched a beta version of its open data portal. This is a major milestone for Vancouver on several levels. It is a testament to our politicians, who had the vision and foresight to embrace this idea. It is a tribute to the city’s staff who have worked unbelievably hard to make this project come alive so quickly. It is a triumph for those of us who advocate and have been working with the city to move us towards open government and government as platform. Finally, it represents an enormous opportunity for coders and citizens alike, and it is to this group that I’d like to address this blog post.
The Data Portal represents an opportunity for citizens, especially citizen coders, to help create a City that Thinks Like the Web: a city that enables citizens to create and access collective knowledge and information to create new services, suggest new ideas, and identify critical bugs in the infrastructure and services, among other a million other possibilities.
But the open data is only the part of the puzzle. Yes, our data is now beginning to be set free. But we have to use it.
If not, we’ll risk losing it.
I wish I could say that the city will share data no matter what and that political support will continue forever. But the fact is, municipal resources are limited. While the potential of open data is enormous, we need more than potential; we need some wins. More importantly, we need an active and engaged community working to make Vancouver better, more efficient, and more interesting because of our open data. We need to show politicians and public servants in Vancouver, but also in Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, Nanaimo, Moncton and other places across the country that citizens want access to data, and that if we get it, we will help their city (or province, or country) come alive in new and inventive ways.
Back in June, shortly after City Council passed Open3 (the nickname for the Open Motion), I gave this presentation to both City staff and at Open Web Vancouver. In it I described how “the bargain” Clay Shirky says exists on every successful web 2.0 site also exists in cities that want to think like the web.
In our case the bargain is simple: On one side, the city agrees to share as much data as it possibly can, in open formats, as quickly as it can. On the other side, the community – and in particular citizen coders – must make that data come alive in applications, websites and analysis. The city has taken the first step in fulfilling its side of the bargain. (And yes, we need to keep adding more data; there is work to be done.) Now it is time to activate the other half of the bargain. If we don’t, we put the deal at risk.
So what can you do?
First, you can code up an app, or find ways to help those who are. Indeed, there is going to be a Hackathon tomorrow evening at the Vancouver Archives to do just this. A number of projects are already underway that you can join – or start one yourself! I will be there myself, and I encourage you to swing by too.
Second, if you’d like to build an application, but the dataset you need is currently not available, then complete the city’s Open Data priority survey!
Third, come add ideas, resources and projects to the Vancouver Open Data Wiki.
I’m enormously excited to see what evolves next. As many of you know, I’ve been advising the Mayor’s Office on open data and open government for several months now – and through my work with them and with city staff, I’ve been deeply impressed by the energy and commitment that I’ve seen. As far as I know, only three major cities have created data portals such as this, and to do this in three months is incredible. Over the next few days I’m going to share some more thoughts on what the Open Data portal means for Vancouver. If you get a chance I hope you’ll send me your thoughts as well, or post some to your own blog if you have one.