Tag Archives: vantrash

Launching an Open Data Business: Recollect.net (Vantrash 2.0)

Have you ever forgotten to take the garbage or recycling out? Wouldn’t it be nice if someone sent you a reminder the night before, or the morning of? Maybe an email, or an SMS, or even a phone call?

Now you can set it up so somebody does. Us.

Introducing Recollect: the garbage and recycling collection reminder service.

For People

We’ve got the garbage schedules for a number of Canadian cities big and small (with American ones coming soon) – test our site out to see if we support yours.

You can set up a reminder for the night before – or the day of – your garbage pickup, and we’ll email, text or call you letting you know your garbage day is imminent and what will be picked up (say, recycling, yard waste or garbage). Our email and Twitter reminders are free, and text message and phone calls cost $1.50 a month.

If you think you, your sibling, friends, or your parents might like a service like this, please come check out our website.

It’s simple and we hope you’ll give it a whirl.

For Cities

We don’t think that Recollect is going to change the world, but we do think we can help better manage citizens’ expectations around customer service. For cities (and companies) interested in connecting with their citizens and customers, we have have a number of partnering options we have already started to explore with some cities.

More importantly, if you’d like to see Recollect come to your city, have your garbage schedule and zones available for download – like Edmonton and Vancouver.

On either of these fronts, if you are a politician, city employee or a business owner who needs a reminder service of some kind, please contact us.

Background – an open data municipal business

In June of 2009, as Vancouver was preparing to launch its open data portal I wrote a blog post called How Open Data even makes Garbage collection sexier, easier and cheaper in which I talked about how, using city data, a developer could create a garbage pickup reminder service for Vancouverites. Tim Bray called it his Hello World moment for Open Data. More importantly, Luke Closs and Kevin Jones, two Vancouver programers (and now good friends) took the idea and made it real. The program was called Vantrash, and in two quiet, low-maintenance years – with no advertising or marketing – it garnered over 3000 users.

Last week we retired Vantrash. Today, we launched Recollect.

Yes, Recollect is more beautiful than its predecessor, but more importantly it is going to start serving your community. At a high level, we want to see if we can scale an open data business to a continental level. Can we use open data to serve a range of cities across North America?

At a practical level, the goal of Recollect is more basic: To help make citizens’ lives just a little bit easier by providing them customized reminders for services they use, to the device of their choice, at the time of their choice.

Let’s face it: We are all too busy being parents, holding down jobs or enjoying the limited free time we have to remember things like garbage day or little league schedules. Our job is to make your life easier by finding ways to free our minds of wasting time remembering these small details. If you aren’t trying to remember to take out the garbage, hopefully it means you can spend a little more time thinking about your family, your work or whatever your passion may be.

In short, we believe that city services should be built around your life – and we are trying to take a small step to bring that a little closer to reality.

Again, we don’t expect Recollect to change the world. But we do hope that it will serve as a building block for rethinking the government-user experience that will lay the foundations so that others will be able to change the world.

Links from Gov2.0 Summit talk and bonus material

My 5 minute lightening fast jam packed talk (do I do other formats? answer… yes) from yesterday’s Gov2.0 summit hasn’t yet been has just been posted to youtube. I love that this year the videos have the slides integrated into it.

For those who were, and were not, there yesterday, I wanted to share links to all the great sites and organizations I cited during my talk, I also wanted to share one or two quick stories I didn’t have time to dive into:

VanTrash and 311:

Screen-shot-2010-09-09-at-3.07.32-AM-1024x640As one of the more mature apps in Vancouver using open data Vantrash keeps being showing us how these types of innovations just keep giving back in new and interesting ways.

In addition to being used by over 3000 households (despite never being advertised – this is all word of mouth) it turns out that the city staff are also finding a use for vantrash.

I was recently told that 311 call staff use Vantrash to help trouble shoot incoming calls from residents who are having problems with garbage collection. The first thing one needs to do in such a situation is identify which collection zone the caller lives in – turns out VanTrash is the fastest and more effective way to accomplish this. Simply input the caller’s address into the top right hand field and presto – you know their zone and schedule. Much better than trying to find their address on a physical map that you may or may not have near your station.

TaxiCity, Open Data and Game Development

Another interesting spin off of open data. The TaxiCity development team, which recreated downtown Vancouver in 2-D using data from the open data catalog, noted that creating virtual cities in games could be a lot easier with open data. You could simply randomize the height of buildings and presto an instant virtual city would be ready. While the buildings would still need to be skinned one could recreate cities people know quickly or create fake cities that felt realistic as they’d be based on real plans. More importantly, this process could help reduce the time and resources needed to create virtual cities in games – an innovation that may be of interest to those in the video game industry. Of course, given that Vancouver is a hub for video game development, it is exactly these types of innovations the city wishes to foster and will help sustain Vancouver’s competitive advantage.

Links (in order of appearance in my talk)

Code For America shirt design can be seen in all their glory here and can be ordered here. As a fun aside, I literally took that shirt of Tim O’Reilly’s back! I saw it the day before and said, I’d wear that on stage. Tim overheard me and said he’d give me his if I was serious…

Vancouver’s Open Motion (or Open3, as it is internally referred to by staff) can be read in the city’s PDF version or an HTML version from my blog.

Vancouver’s Open Data Portal is here. keep an eye on this page as new data sets and features are added. You can get RSS feed or email updates on the page, as well as see its update history.

Vantrash the garbage reminder service’s website is here. There’s a distinct mobile interface if you are using your phone to browse.

ParkingMobility, an app that crowdsources the location of disabled parking spaces and enables users to take pictures of cars illegally parked in disabled spots to assist in enforcement.

TaxiCity, the Centre for Digital Media Project sponsored by Bing and Microsoft has its project page here. Links to the sourcecode, documentation, and a ton of other content is also available. Really proud of these guys.

Microsoft’s Internal Vancouver Open Data Challenge fostered a number of apps. Most have been opensourced and so you can get access to the code as well. The apps include:

The Graffiti Analysis written by University of British Columbia undergraduate students can be downloaded from this blog post I posted about their project.

BTA Works – the research arm of Bing Thom Architects has a great website here. You can’t download their report about the future of Vancouver yet (it is still being peer-reviewed) but you can read about it in this local newspaper article.

Long Tail of Public Policy – I talk about this idea in some detail in my chapter on O’Reilly Media’s Open Government. There is also a brief blog post and slide from my blog here.

Vancouver’s Open Data License – is here. Edmonton, Ottawa and Toronto use essentially the exact same thing. Lots that could be done on this front still mind you… Indeed, getting all these cities on a single standard license should be a priority.

Vancouver Data Discussion Group is here. You need to sign in to join but it is open to anyone.

Okay, hope those are interesting and helpful.

Creating Open Data Apps: Lessons from Vantrash Creator Luke Closs

Last week, as part of the Apps for Climate Action competition (which is open to anyone in Canada), I interviewed the always awesome Luke Closs. Luke, along with Kevin Jones, created VanTrash, a garbage pick up reminder app that uses open data from the City of Vancouver. In it, Luke shares some of the lessons learned while creating an application using open data.

As the deadline for the Apps for Climate Action competition approaches (August 8th) we thought this might help those who are thinking about throwing their hat in the ring last minute.

Some key lessons from Luke:

  • Don’t boil the ocean: Keep it simple – do one thing really, really well.
  • Get a beta up fast: Try to scope something you can get a rough version working in day or evening – that is a sure sign that it is doable
  • Beta test: On friends and family. A lot.
  • Keep it fun: do something that develops a skill or let’s you explore a technology you’re interested in