Tag Archives: applications

Applications and Hardware Already Running On Open Data

Yesterday, Gerry T shared a photo he snapped at the University of Alberta in Edmonton of a “departure board” in the university’s Student Union building that uses open transportation data from the city’s website.

Essentially the display board is composed of a simply application, displayed over a large flat screen TV turned vertically.

TransitApp_BusDepartures-217x300It’s exactly the kind of thing that I imagine University Students in many cities around the world wish they had – especially if you are on a campus that is cold and/or wet. Wouldn’t it be nice to wait inside that warm student union building rather than at the bus stop?

Of course in Boston they’ve gone further than just providing the schedule online. They provide real-time data on bus locations which some students and engineers have used to create $350 LED signs in coffee houses to let users know when the next bus is coming.

It’s the kind of simple innovations you wish you’d see in more places: government’s letting people help themselves at making their lives a little easier. Yes, this isn’t changing the world, but its a start, and an example of what more could happen.

Mostly it’s nice to see innovators in Canada like playing with the technology. Hopefully governments will catch up and let the even bigger ideas students around the country have be more than just visions in their heads.

Not sure who at the University created this, but nice work.

International Open Data Hackathon – IRC Channel and project ideas

Okay, going to be blogging a lot more about the international open data hackathon over the next few days. Last count had us at 63 other cities in 25 countries on over 5 continents.

So first and foremost, here are three thoughts/ideas/actions I’m taking right now:

1. Communicating via IRC

First, for those who have been wondering… yes, there will be an IRC channel on Dec 4th (and as of now) that I will try to be on most of the day.

irc.oftc.net #odhd

This could be a great place for people with ideas or open sourced projects to share them with others or for cities that would like to present some of the work they’ve done on the day with others to find an audience. If, by chance, work on a specific project becomes quite intense on the IRC channel, it may be polite for those working on it to start a project specific channel, but we’ll cross the bridge on the day.

Two additional thoughts:

2. Sharing ideas

Second, some interesting projects brainstorms have been cropping up on the wiki. Others have been blogging about them, like say these ideas from Karen Fung in Vancouver.

Some advice to people who have ideas (which is great).

a) describe who the user(s) would be and what the application will it do, why would someone use it, and what value would they derive from it.

b) even if you aren’t a coder (like me) lay out what data sets the application or project will need to draw upon

c) use powerpoint or keynote to create a visual of what you think the end product should look like!

d) keep it simple. Simple things get done and can always get more complicated. Complicated things don’t get done (and no matter how simple you think it is… it’s probably more complicated than you think

These were the basic principles I adhered when laying out the ideas behind what eventually became Vantrash and Emitter.ca.

Look at the original post where I described what I think a garbage reminder service could look like. Look how closely the draft visual resembles what became the final product… it was way easier for Kevin and Luke (who I’d never met at the time) to model vantrash after an image than just a description.

Garbage%20App

Mockup

Vantrash screen shot

3. Some possible projects to localize:

A number of projects have been put forward as initatives that could be localized. I wanted to highlight a few here:

a) WhereDoesMyMoneyGo?

People could create new instances of the site for a number of different countries. If you are interested, please either ping wdmmg-discuss or wdmmg (at) okfn.org.

Things non-developers could do:

  1. locate the relevant spending data on their government’s websites
  2. right up materials explaining the different budget areas
  3. help with designing the localized site.

b) OpenParliament.ca
If you live in a country with a parliamentary system (or not, and you just want to adapt it) here is a great project to localize. The code’s at github.com/rhymeswithcycle.

Things non-developers can do:

  1. locate all the contact information, twitter handles, websites, etc… of all the elected members
  2. help with design and testing

c) How’d They Vote
This is just a wonderful example of a site that creates more data that others can use. The API’s coming out of this site save others a ton of work and essentially “create” open data…

d) Eatsure
This app tracks health inspection data of restaurants done by local health authorities. Very handy. Would love to see someone create a widget or API that companies like Yelp could use to insert this data into the restaurant review… that would be a truly powerful use of open data.

The code is here:  https://github.com/rtraction/Eat-Sure
Do you have a project you’d like to share with other hackers on Opendataday? Let me know! I know this list is pretty North American specific so would love to share some ideas from elsewhere.

Saving Cities Millions: Introducing CivicCommons.com

Last year, after speaking at the MISA West conference I blogged about an idea I’d called Muniforge (It was also published in the Municipal Information Systems Association’s journal Municipal Interface but behind a paywall). The idea was to create a repository like SourceForge that could host open source software code developed by and/or for cities to share with one another. A few months later I followed it up with another post Saving Millions: Why Cities should Fork the Kuali Foundation which chronicled how a coalition of universities have been doing something similar (they call it community source) and have been saving themselves millions of dollars.

Last week at the Gov 2.0 Summit in Washington, DC my friends over at OpenPlans, with who I’ve exchanged many thoughts about this idea, along with the City of Washington DC brought this idea to life with the launch of Civic Commons. It’s an exciting project that has involved the work of a lot of people: Phillip Ashlock at OpenPlans who isn’t in the video below deserves a great deal of congratulations, as does the team over at Code for America who were also not on the stage.

At the moment Civic Commons is a sort of whitepages for open sourced civic government applications and policies. It doesn’t actually host the software it just points you to where the licenses and code reside (say, for example, at GitHub). There are lots of great tools out there for collaborating on software that don’t need replicating, instead Civic Commons is trying to foster community, a place where cities can find projects they’d like to leverage or contribute to.

The video below outlines it all in more detail. If you find it interesting (or want to skip it and get to that action right away) take a look at the Civic Commons.com website, there are already a number of applications being shared and worked on. I’m also thrilled to share that I’ve been asked to be an adviser to Civic Commons, so more on that and what it means for non-American cities, after the video.

One thing that comes through when looking at this video is the sense this is a distinctly American project. Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, during a planning meeting on Thursday I mentioned that a few Canadian cities have contacted me about software applications they would like to make open source to share with other municipalities, everyone and especially Bryan Sivak (CIO for Washington, DC) was keen that other countries join and partake in Civic Commons.

It may end up that municipalities in other countries wish to create their own independent project. That is fine (I’m in favour of diverse approaches), but in the interim I’m keen to have some international participation early on so that processes and issues it raises will be addressed and baked into the project early on. If you work at a city and are thinking that you’d like to add a project feel free to contact me, but also don’t be afraid to just go straight to the site and add it directly!

Anyway, just to sum up, I’m over the moon excited about this project and hope it will turn out. I’ve been hoping something like this would be launched since writing about Muniforge and am excited to both see it happening and be involved.

Which App for Climate Action do you like most?

Yesterday, at 5pm PST the Apps for Climate Action team at the Province of British Columbia released the list of 17 applications created using data from the Apps for Climate Action data catalog.

At the moment anyone can register and vote for the application that they think is the best. I’d encourage people to click over to the website and take a look.

The Apps for Climate Action is a demonstration of what can happen when we begin to make government held data freely available to the public: people can bring to life, even make fun, engaging and useful, what are often boring stats and numbers to bridge what Hans Rosling calls the last 6 inches (the distance from your eyes to your brain, a reference to the failure in design where we make data we can see, but not that captures our imagination).

In a month where our federal government cited imaginary data to justify policies on crime and has eliminated the gathering a huge swaths of effective data necessary for the efficient governing of our cities and rural communities as well as ensuring critical services will no longer reach innumerable Canadians, it is nice to see a province trying to do the opposite: not only understand that effective data is the cornerstone to good policy but to enable everyday, ordinary Canadians to leverage it so as to make smarter decisions, influence policy debates and empower themselves. It’s what a modern democracy, economy and civil society should look like.

The Apps for Climate action team and the government deserve a ton of praise fro striking out and trying something new and different. I hope they get worthwhile acknowledgement.

I for one am looking forward to the tough job of serving as a judge in the competition.

More Open Data Apps hit Vancouver

Since the launch of Vancouver’s open data portal a lot of the talk has focused on independent or small groups of programmers hacking together free applications for citizens to use. Obviously I’ve talked a lot about (and have been involved in) Vantrash and have been a big fan of the Amazon.ca/Vancouver Public Library Greasemonkey script created by Steve Tannock.

But independent hackers aren’t the only ones who’ve been interested. Shortly after the launch of the city’s Open Data Portal, Microsoft launched an Open Data App Competition for developers at the Microsoft Canadian Development Centre just outside Vancouver in Richmond, British Columbia. On Wednesday I had the pleasure of being invited to the complex to eat free pizza and, better still, serve as a guest judge during the final presentations.

So here are 5 more applications that have been developed using the city’s open data. (Some are still being tweaked and refined, but the goal is to have them looking shiny and ready by the Olympics.)

Gold

MoBuddy by Thomas Wei: Possibly the most ambitious of the projects, MoBuddy enables you to connect with friends and visitors during Olympics to plan and share experiences through mobile social networking including Facebook.

Silver

Vancouver Parking by Igor Babichev: Probably the most immediately useful app for Vancouverites, Vancouver Parking helps you plan your trip by using your computer in advanced to find parking spots, identify time restrictions, parking duration and costs… It even knows which spots won’t be available for the Olympics. After the Olympics are over, it will be interesting to see if other hackers want to help advance this app. I think a mobile or text message enabled version might be interesting.

Bronze (tie):

Free Finders by Avi Brenner: Another app that could be quite useful to Vancouver residents and visiting tourists, Free Finders uses your facebook connection to find free events and services across the city. Lots of potential here for some local newspapers to pick up this app and run with it.

eVanTivitY by Johannes Stockmann: A great play on creativity and Vancouver, eVanTivity enables you to find City and social events and add-in user-defined data-feeds. Once the Olympics are over I’ve got some serious ideas about how this app could help Vancouver’s Arts & Cultural sector.

Honourable Mention:

MapWay by Xinyang Qiu: Offers a way to find City of Vancouver facilities and Olympic events in Bing Maps as well as create a series of customized maps that combine city data with your own.

More interestingly, in addition to being available to use, each of these applications can be downloaded, hacked on, remixed and tinkered with under an open source license (GNU I believe) once the Olympics are over. The source codes will be available at Microsoft’s Codeplex.

In short, it is great to see a large company like Microsoft take an active interest in Vancouver’s Open Data and try to find some ways to give back to the community – particularly using an open source licenses. I’d also like to give a shout out to Mark Gayler (especially) as well as Dennis Pilarinos and Barbara Berg for making the competition possible and, of course, to all the coders at the Development Centre who volunteered their time and energy to create these apps. These are interesting times for a company like Microsoft and so I’d also like to give a shout out to David Crow who’s been working hard to get important people inside the organization comfortable with the idea of open source and open to experimenting with it.

Vancouver Open Data Version 2: New Apps to create

Wow, wow, wow.

The City of Vancouver has just launched version 2 of its open data portal. A number of new data sets have been added to the site which is very exciting. Better still previously released data sets have been released in new formats.

Given that at 5pm tomorrow (Tuesday. Jan 26th) there will be the third Open Data Hackathon at the city archives to which anyone is invited, I thought I’d share the 5 new open data apps I’d love to see:

1. Home Buyers App.

So at some point some smart real estate agent is going to figure out that there is a WEALTH of relevant information for home buyers in the open data catalogue. Perhaps someone might create this iPhone app and charge for it, perhaps a real estate group will pay for its creation (I know some coders who would be willing – drop me an email).

Imagine an iPhone app you use when shopping around for homes. Since the app knows where you are it can use open data to tell you: property assessment, the distance to the nearest park (and nearest park with off leash area), nearest school, school zone (elementary, plus secondary immersion and regular), distance to the local community centre, neighborhood name, nearest bus/subway stops and routes, closest libraries, nearest firehall among a host of other data. Having that type of information at your finger tips could be invaluable!

2. My Commute App:

One of the sexiest and most interesting data sets released in version 2 is a GeoRss feed of upcoming road closures (which you can also click and see as a map!). It would be great if a commuter could outline their normal drive or select their bus route and anytime the rss feed posts about roadwork that will occur on that route the user receives an email informing them of this fact. Allows you to plan an alternative route or know that you’re going to have to leave a little early.

3. Development Feedback App

There is always so much construction going on in Vancouver it is often hard to know what is going to happen next. The city, to its credit, requires developers to post a giant white board outlining the proposed development. Well now a data feed of planned developments is available on the data portal (it also can already be viewed in map form)! Imagine an iPhone app which shows you the nearest development applications (with details!) and heritage buildings so you can begin to understand how the neighbourhood is going to change. Then imagine a form you can fill in – right then(!) – that emails your concerns or support for that development to a councilor or relevant planning official…

For a city like Vancouver that obsesses about architecture and its neighborhoods, this feels like a winner.

4. MyPark App

We Vancouverites are an outdoorsey bunch. Why not an app that consolidates information about the cities parks into one place. You could have park locations, nearest park locator, nearest dog park locator, the Parks Boards most recent announcements and events RSS Feed. I’m hoping that in the near future Parks Board will release soccer/ultimate frisbee field conditions updates in a machine readable format.

5. VanTrash 2.0?

Interestingly Apartment recycling schedule zones was also released in the new version of the site. Might be interesting to see if we can incorporate it into the already successful Vantrash and so expand the user base.

I’m also thinking there could be some cool things one could do with Graffiti information (maybe around reporting? a 311 tie in?) and street lights (safest route home walking app?)

So there is a start. If you are interested in these – or have your own ideas for how the data could be used – let me know. Better yet, consider coming down to the City Archives tomorrow evening for the third open data hackathon. I’ll be there, it would be great to chat.

More ways to make open data sexy: 5 Municipal Apps I'd love to see (what are yours?)

One of the big goals of the open data project is to get many citizens interested in different ways the data can be used. Many citizens lack the skills to code up an application and creating a website is intimidating, but they may have ideas that could improve the city or be useful to many citizens.

In the hopes of spurring more interest in the open data and getting those not tradition involved, well… involved, I’ve created an “Ideas for the Taking” page on the Vancouver Open Data wiki. I’ve seeded the page with some of the ideas I promised I would share at the Open Data Hackathon last week . Some use open data, others don’t. Mostly however, I hop they spurn others to think of what is possible and what interests them. (PS. If you are a reader and the wiki is too confusing, just email me your idea and I’ll add it to the wiki with (or without, if you prefer) you’re name attached.

So here are some ideas I’ve brainstormed:

1. Stolen Bike Tracker

Vancouver’s cycling community is huge, sadly however, the city is plagued by a serious problem: stolen bicycles. There is no solution to this problem but I think a well crafted app could help minimize the nuisance. I can imagine an app or website in which you take a photo of your bike and upload it along with some identifying information(like the serial number) to a website. The picture stays hidden, however, if your bike gets tragically stolen you load up the apps and press the “my bike was stolen button.” This marks the physical place where your bike was stolen and activates your bike photo and marks it as stolen. Now cyclists, bike shop owners and the police can check bikes to see if they are stolen before buying them (or return them to their owner if they are recovered). In addition, a street map of bike theft would also be created. This could be particularly relevant since I suspect a great deal of bike theft is not reported. Finally, for those worried about privacy, I could imagine the app using a Craigslist style contact system that would preserve the anonymity of the original owner.

2. A Downtown East Side Landlord wiki

There are a few data sets that might allow for someone to create a geo-wiki of the DTES. I think it would be interesting to have a wiki that – on a building by building level – outlined who owned which residential buildings, what they charged in rent, a list of the room amenities and comments about the property’s management. It might also be interesting to enable photos to be posted so people can show the living conditions. Such a wiki might give the public (and prospective renters) a window into the deplorable conditions and poor practices of the worst offenders. It might also help City Staff deploy resources for investigating code violations and other questionable practices.

3. Everyblock+

Obviously, I think an Everyblock app for Vancouver would be great. The one new layer I’d love to see added to it is a charity button. With this button you would see what charities are operating on the block/area you are standing on. This is harder to imagine realizing, but cooler still would be a button that would allow you to then donate to that charity.

4. Burrard Bridge Trial Website

While not located on the Open Data Portal, the city has been releasing weekly data sets on vehicle, pedestrian and cycle trip across the Burrard Bridge Trial on the Burrard Trial blog. The data is not particularly well organized (you’d have to scrape it and its only granular to the 24hr time block – so no hour by hour data sets) but it is a start. I’d be fascinating to have a site that does a deeper analysis of the data and maybe shows it in a more interesting format. Maybe a discussion on carbon emissions reduced… still more interesting would be an analysis of bicycle accidents at present versus before the trial (data that is, sadly, not obviously available).

5. City Services vs. Land Value Mashup

It would be interesting to see what impact city services have on land values. I’m not sure if land value data is available (anyone know?) but mashing it up against the location of parks, community centres, schools, firehalls, and other city amenities would be interesting. While potentially interesting to prospective home owners (maybe a real estate agency should develop – or pay to develop – this app) I think it might also be of interest to the electorate and politicians.

One last one: A Library-Amazon Greasemonkey script

A Library-Amazon Greasemonkey search script allows a user to see if a book being displayed on an Amazon.ca website is available in the Vancouver Public Library. This has two benefits. First, it is WAY easier to find books on the Amazon site then the library site, so you can leverage Amazon’s search engine to find books (or book recommendations) at the VPL. Second, it’s a great way to keep the book budget in check!

The Vancouver Public Library has said that it will share access to its database that would allow such an app to work. I believe I have the email address for the relevant person somewhere on my computer who can make this happen. (I can get the contact info for the right person if someone nudges me.) Better still the necessary Greasemonkey script is already available (scripts exist for Palo  Alto, Seattle and Ottawa), it would be great if someone tweaked the script so it worked with the VPL.

Of course, I’m hoping that others are already hatching plans about how they’d like to use the city’s data to create something they feel passionate about. And remember, if there is an app you’d like to create but the data set isn’t available – take the Open Data survey to let your voice be heard! If any of these ideas interest you, go for it. If I can help in any way, let me know, I’m keen to contribute.