Tag Archives: apps for climate action

Canada's emerging opendata mashups (plus some ideas)

Over at IT World Canada, Jennifer Kavur has put together a list of 25 sites and apps for Open Government. What’s fantastic about this list is it demonstrates to government officials and politicians that there is a desire, here in Canada, to take government data and do interesting things with it.

Whether driven by developers like Michael Mulley or Morgan Peers who just want to improve democracy and have fun, or whether it is by those like Jeff Aramini who want to start a business and make money, the appetite to do something is real, and it is growing. Indeed, the number of apps and sites is far greater than 25 including simple mashups like CSEDEV’s environment Canada pollution data display or the 17 apps recently created as part of the Apps For Climate Action competition.

What is all the more remarkable is that this growth is happening even as there is little government data available. Yes, a number of cities have made data available, but provincially and especially federally there is almost no concerted effort to make data easy to use. Indeed, many of the sites cited by Kavur have to “scrape” the data of government websites, a laborious process that can easily break if the government website changes structure. It begs the question, what would happen if the data were accessible?

As an aside, two data sets I’m surprised no one has done much with are both located on the Toronto website: Road Restriction data and DineSafe data. Given how poor the city’s beta road restriction website is and the generally high interest in traffic news, I’d have thought that one of the local papers or media companies would have paid someone to develop an iPhone app or a widget for their website using this data. It is one thing commuters and consumers want to know more about.

As for DineSafe, I’m also surprised that no one in Toronto has approached the eatsure developers and asked them if they can port the site to Toronto. I’m still more surprised that a local restaurant review website has developed a widget that shows you to the DineSafe rating of a restaurant on its review page. Or that an company like urbanspoon or yelp hasn’t hired an iPhone app developer to integrate this data into their app…

Good times for Open Data in Canada. But if the feds and provinces were on board it could be much, much better…

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.