Recently, Vancouver’s City Council passed an “Open Data, Open Source” motion. I was too busy at the time to pay much attention, which I’ve regretted. Now I’ve started poking around a bit, and turned up an interesting person and an outstanding example.

Open Garbage Data · No, I’m not kidding. This idea was recently floated by David Eaves in How Open Data even makes Garbage collection sexier, easier and cheaper. Seriously; take a moment and read it. If there’s low-hanging fruit in garbage collection [Watch those metaphors. -Ed.] it’s hard not to get excited over what you could build on the raw data about housing and zoning and licensing and traffic and all the other intensely-local things a city has its hands on.

I’ve always liked opening up data resources and have spent my career building technology to support this, but for me this is a powerful abstraction-free “Hello World” example of why.

Meeting David · By an odd coincidence, I already had a date to meet David Eaves, the guy who wrote that piece. He’d come across my radar as one of the people doing work on that Open Everything resolution and then he published a blog piece saying “Who are the people that read this?” and I’d dropped him a note saying “I’m an Internet guy who likes what the city’s doing, wondering if I can help”, so we had coffee.

David Eaves

David Eaves in an appropriately urban setting at Cambie and Broadway.

He doesn’t actually work for the City, but he’s an activist with Vision Vancouver, the municipal sort-of-political-party that currently holds a majority on council. They’re not perfect, but they seem, on balance, level-headed and smart.

David has lots of ideas about other good things that could be accomplished by opening up this data source or that, and it all seems affordable. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there’s not much in the way of organized opposition. I imagine the city’s IT department is grumbling about unasked-for extra work, which is fair, but it shouldn’t be that painful.

The thinking seems to be along these lines:

  • Publish the data in a usable form.

  • License it in a way that turns people loose to do whatever they want, but doesn’t create unreasonable liability risk for the city.

  • See what happens. Nobody’s smart enough to predict what combination of private-business and community-activist players will use it, or what they’ll use it for. If nobody does, well, it didn’t cost much to try.

Vancouver’s not alone; apparently Washington DC, of all places, is the world leader in doing this; also some West Coast cities including San Francisco are making good progress.

Going Local · Me, I’ve spent the last few decades starting businesses and trying to improve the Internet. I’ve been well-rewarded for doing it and I have few regrets. But I’m increasingly getting an urge to pitch in and give back at a local level, if I can find somewhere I’d be useful.

I’m not sure where that is. But as a first step, I’m joining Vision Vancouver; the first political party I’ve been a member of since the early Eighties.



Contributions

Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Dave Lemen (Jul 01 2009, at 15:36)

The man who opened up Washington DC's data, Vivek Kundra, was subsequently chosen by President Obama to be the first U.S. CIO. He's now leading the open government initiative that gave us data.gov. See http://blog.ostp.gov/2009/06/08/data-transparency-via-datagov/

Data.gov still has a ways to go, but it's a start.

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From: John Simon (Jul 01 2009, at 19:22)

for a second I was wondering what has Open Data to do with good ol' GC algorithms...

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From: len (Jul 02 2009, at 06:24)

Who are they licensing map data from?

Unless they are generating it themselves, their licenses may preclude outward-looking presentation and integration unless they specifically pay for that.

The cloud is not free nor can a government control the cost of its services outside the normal procurement channels and contracts.

Open doesn't mean free. In fact, past the cost of some software layers, it doesn't have much meaning at all because the base layer content is licensed.

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From: Patrick Bourke (Jul 03 2009, at 10:45)

Does anyone know of a community organized around building open source software/open data repositories for civic purposes? I'd be interested in contributing to such an organization.

Jon Udell's blog and podcasts (blog.jonudell.net) frequently touch on this area. Also, datalibre.ca is worth checking out.

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