Tag Archives: open source software

International Open Data Hackathon Updates and Apps

With the International Open Data Hackathon getting closer, I’m getting excited. There’s been a real expansion on the wiki of the number of cities where people are sometimes humbly, sometimes grandly, putting together events. I’m seeing Nairobi, Dublin, Sydney, Warsaw and Madrid as some of the cities with newly added information. Exciting!

I’ve been thinking more and more about applications people can hack on that I think would be fun, engage a broad number of people and that would help foster a community around viable, self-sustaining projects.

I’m of course, all in favour of people working on whatever peaks their interest, but here are a few projects I’m encouraging people to look at:

1. Openspending.org

What I really like about openspending.org is that there are lots of ways non-coders can contribute. Specifically finding, scraping and categorizing budget data, which (sadly) is often very messy are things almost anyone with a laptop can do and are essential to getting this project off the ground. In addition, the reward for this project can be significant, a nice visualization of whatever budget you have data for – a perfect tool for helping people better understand where their money (or taxes) go. Another big factor in its favour… openspending.org – a project of the Open Knowledge Foundation who’ve been big supporters and sponsors of the international open data hackathon – is also perfect because, if all goes well, it is the type of project that a group can complete in one day.

So I hope that some people try playing with website using your own local data. It would be wonderful to see the openspending.org community grow.

2. Adopt a Hydrant

Some of you have already seen me blog about this app – a project that comes of out Code for America. If you know of a government agency, or non profit, that has lat/long information for a resource that it wants people to help take care of… then adopt a hydrant could be for you. Essentially adopt a hydrant – which can be changed to adopt an anything – allows people to sign up and “adopt” what ever the application tracks. Could be trees, hydrants, playgrounds… you name it.

Some of you may be wondering… why adopt a hydrant? Well because in colder places, like Boston, MA, adopt a hydrant was created in the hopes that citizens might adopt a hydrant and so agree that when it snows they would keep the hydrant clear of snow. That way, in case their is a fire, the emergency responders don’t end up wasting valuable minutes locating and then digging out, the hydrant. Cool eh?

I think adopt a hydrant has the potential of become a significant open source project, one widely used by cities and non-profits. Would be great to see some people turned on to it!

3. Mapit

What I love about mapit is that it is the kind of application that can help foster other open data applications. Created by the wonderful people over at Mysociety.org this open source software essentially serves as a mapping layer so that you can find out what jurisdictions a given address or postal code or GPS device currently sits in (e.g. what riding, ward, city, province, county, state, etc… am I in?). This is insanely useful for lots of developers trying to build websites and apps that tell their users useful information about a given address or where they are standing. Indeed, I’m told that most of Mysociety.org’s project use their instance of MapIt to function.

This project is for those seeking a more ambitious challenge, but I love the idea that this service might exist in multiple countries and that a community might emerge around another one of mysociety.org’s projects.

No matter what you intend to work on, drop me a line! Post it to the open data day mailing list and let me know about it. I’d love to share it with the world.

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.

The Dunbar number in open source

For those interested in open-source systems (everything from public policy to software) should listen to Christopher Allen’s talk (his blog here) on the Dunbar Number.

Dunbar’s number, which is 150, represents a theoretical maximum number of individuals with whom a set of people can maintain a social relationship, the kind of relationship that goes with knowing who each person is and how each person relates socially to every other person.

Malcolm Gladwell brought the Dunbar number into popular discourse when he referenced it in his book The Tipping Point.

However, Allen’s talk tries to nuance the debate. Specifically, he wishes that those who reference the Dunbar number would be more aware that in he research literature, the mean group size of 150 only applies to groups with high incentives to stay together. As examples he cites nomadic tribes, armies, terrorist organizations, mafias, etc… in short, groups in which mutual trust and strong relationships are essential for survival. This is in part due to the fact that there is a cost group members must pay to maintaining this groups of this size: one must spend 40% of ones time engaged in “social grooming.” This means sitting around listening to one another, talking, being engaged, etc… Without this social grooming it is difficult to develop and maintain the unstructured trust that holds the group together.

More interestingly Allen’s research suggests that in modern groups there is a correlation between group satisfaction and the size of the group. Things work well between 3-12 people and from 25-80. But in between there is this hole. Groups in this “chasm” are too be too big to use many of the tools (like meetings) that small groups can use, but too small to successfully rely on the tools (such as hierarchies and reporting mechanisms) that allow larger groups to function.

Open source projects (and really any new project) should find this interesting. There is a group size chasm that must, at some point, be crossed. When I’m less tired I will try to wander over to sourceforge and see if I can plot the size of the projects there to see if they scale up nicely against Allen’s graph.

In addition, I’m curious as to whether some softer skills around facilitation would allow groups to function more effectively, even within this “chasm.”

Free Software and Open-Source Symposium

Friends! I want to make sure everybody and anybody who might be interested knows about the upcoming 6th annual Free Software and Open-Source Symposium in Toronto, this October 25-26th.

What is Open-Source? There is a good definition here.

Non-techies should not be shy… I (and I’m very non-techie, I couldn’t code if my life, quite literally, depended on it) for example will be talking about Community Management as the core competency of Open Source projects. While open-source is usually talked about in reference to software, the conference organizers are interested in open systems more generally, and how they can be applied in various fields. I’m interested in open-source public policy (which, if they’ll have me back, I’d like to talk about next year…) and others are interested in its application to theater, meeting design, etc…

For more information I would suggest the blog of David Humphrey, one of the event’s coordinators, where one can read about cool insider info (e.g. prizes) and juicy gossip (e.g. the public, but just, shaming of me for being delinquent in submitting my talk summary).

You can also check out the conference’s webpage, where you can find the agenda, a place to register and other info.

The Free Software and Open Source Symposium
October 25-26th, 2007 – 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Seneca@York Campus, Toronto

The Symposium is a two-day event aimed at bringing together educators, developers and other interested parties to discuss common free software and open source issues, learn new technologies and to promote the use of free and open source software. At Seneca College, we think free and open source software are real alternatives.