Tag Archives: open cities

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…

Canadian Open Cities Update

For those who have not been following the news there have been a couple of exciting developments on the open data front at the municipal level in Canada.

First off, the City of Edmonton has launched its Apps competition, details can be found at the Apps4Edmonton website.

Second, it looks like the City of London, Ontario is may do a pilot of open data – thanks to the vocal activism of local developers and community organizers the Mayor of London expressed interesting in doing a pilot at the London Changecamp. As mentioned, there is a vibrant and active community in London, Ontario so I hope this effort takes flight.

Third, and much older, is that Ottawa approved doing open data, so keep an eye on this website as things begin to take shape

The final municipal update is the outlier… Turns out that although Calgary passed a motion to do open data a few months ago the roll out keeps getting delayed by a small group of city councillors. Reasons are murky especially since I’m told by local activists that the funds have already been allocated and that everything is set to go. Will be watching this unfold with interest.

Finally, unrelated to municipal data, but still important (!), Apps4Climate Action has extended the contest deadline due to continued interest in the contest. The new submission deadline is August 8th.

Hope everyone has a great weekend. Oh, and if you haven’t already, please join the facebook group “let’s get 100,000 Canadian to op out of yellow pages delivery.” Already, in less than a week, over 800 Canadians have successfully opted of receiving the yellow pages. Hope you’ll join too.

Many eyes make all bugs shallow – especially when the eyes get smarter

[Please bear with me for the next 24 hours – I’m moving to a new hosting company, and there may be some glitches here and there to work out. Thanks.]

My friend Diederik has been writing a number of cool posts over at his blog Network-labs.org. For example he has an awesome jetpack plugin that predicts the likelihood a bug will get fixed and a plugin that allows users to rate how badly a bug is being flamed (to spot counterproductive behaviours).

But he recently published a very cool post that uses data from Mozilla bug submissions over the past decade to demonstrate that bug submitters become more proficient over time. However, there are outliers who are a “drag” on the system. More importantly, I believe his data can be interpreted in another way. That, with some minor investment (particularly some simpler vetting screens prior to reaching bugzilla) bug submitters could learn faster.

For example, a landing screen that asks you if you’ve ever submitted a bug before might take newbies to a different page where the bugzilla process is explained in greater detail, the fact that this is not a support site is outlined, and some models of good “submissions” are shared (along with some words of encouragement). By segmenting newbies we might ease the work burden on those who have to vet the bugs.

I think this also has implications for cities and 311 systems (systems that essentially allow citizens to report problems – or bugs – with city infrastructure or services). There will inevitably be people who become heavy users of 311 – the goal is not to get frustrated with them, but to move them up a learning curve of submitting helpful and useful information as quickly as possible. Ignoring them will not work. Strategies for engagement, including understanding what is motivating them and why they continue to use the system in an ineffective way, could help save the city resources and help foster a larger army of citizens who use their spare social capital to make the city a better and more resilient space.