It turns out that Santa, with the help of some terribly two clever elves over at Montreal Ouvert has created an Open Data inspired present for Montrealers.
What, you must ask could it be?
It’s a genius little website created by two Montreal developers – James McKinney and Dan Mireault – that scrapes the City of Montreal’s data on ice rink status to display the location and condition of all the outdoor ice rinks in the city.
What more could a winter bound montrealer ask for? Well… actually… how about being able to download it as an Android app to use on your smart phone. Yes, you can do that too thanks to another Montreal software developer: Mudar Noufal.
Here’s a screen shot of the slick web version (more on the project below the fold)
Creating this unbelievably useful application was no small feat. It turns out that the City of Montreal publishes the state of the outdoor hockey rinks every day in PDF format. While it is nice that the city puts this information up on the web, sharing it via PDF is probably the most inaccessible way of meeting this goal. To create this site the developers have to “scrape” the data out of these PDF files every day. Creating the software to do this is not only tedious, it can also be frustrating and laborious. In reality, this data was created with tax dollars and is encouraging the use of city assets. Making it difficult to access is unnecessary and counterproductive.
This is because if you can get the data, the things you can create (like PatinerMontreal.ca) can be gorgeous and far superior to anything the city offers. The City’s PDFs conveys a lot of information in a difficult to decipher format – text. Visualizing this information and making it searchable allows the user to quickly see where rinks or located in the city, what types of rinks (skating versus hockey) are located where, and the status of said rinks (newly iced or not).
My hope – and the hope of Montreal Ouvert – is that projects like this show the City of Montreal (and other cities across Canada) the power of getting data out of PDFs and shared in a machine readable format on an open data portal. If Montreal had an Open Data portal (like Vancouver, Nanaimo, Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa, and others) this application would have been much easier to create and Montrealers would enjoy the benefit of being able to better use the services their tax dollars works so hard to create.
Congratulations to James, Dan and Mudar on such a fantastic project.
Happy Holidays to Montreal Ouvert.
Happy Holidays Montreal. Hope you enjoy (and use) this gift.