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From Data to Applications

A great article was featured in today’s Telegraph-Journal on the topic of Open Data – including mentions of the T4G hosted ‘Hackathon’ event in Fredericton this Saturday!

I also got a few quotes for Propertize.ca and the Canadian Fuel Consumption Guide Application that I am also working on.

Read on for more information:

The City of Fredericton has increased public access to government data by joining the open data movement that is sweeping the country.

Open data sites have been created in major centres across Canada and now Fredericton has recently launched its own open data site where users, such as software developers, can access information, collected by the municipality, to create interesting, new applications for the Web and smartphones.

“We’re trying to encourage local developers to develop new technologies, making it freely available without any restrictions,” said Rob Lunn, co-ordinator of Geographic Information Systems for the City of Fredericton. “It’s about being transparent and offering new services … the information we are putting out, the public has already paid for it.”

Shawn Peterson, a local IT consultant, started to develop open data applications after struggling to manoeuvre through a provincial tax information database.

“If you’ve been on the government site for tax assessment, you’ll probably find that it is really complicated,” Peterson said. “Using the data out there already, I built my own application that does a lot of the leg work for you.”

After his web-based application, propertize.ca, experienced some heavy traffic, Peterson said, Service New Brunswick started sending people to his site instead of recommending the government database.

He is currently working on an application that involves vehicle fuel consumption data.

Saturday is International Open Data Day and Fredericton is one of approximately 40 cities around the world that will participate in an event titled Hackathon, a forum that encourages entrepreneurs, government officials and academics to join forces and discuss new ways to use open data.

T4G, a technology solutions organization with offices across North American, including Fredericton and Saint John, will host the event at its Fredericton office from noon until 4 p.m.

The purpose of Hackathon is to raise awareness about open data and explore how government officials can contribute and improve public services at the same time.

It can be “something as simple as garbage collection,” said Patrick Lacroix, T4G’s managing director of leadership and productivity improvement.

“If the City of Fredericton or the City of Saint John had a map for the garbage collection services and the schedule, then somebody could develop an app for your own computer or smartphone. You could get a warning the night before saying ‘Don’t forget to put out your garbage. It’s Thursday night.’”

While the goal of transparency and easy access to information is well-intentioned, some experts say open data may inadvertently reveal sensitive information.

“The dark side of this is … you didn’t intend to publish something that exposes a vulnerability, but you did. You can publish one set of data and another set of data in two different places, but when people cross-reference them, you get an insight that helps shut down the U.S. electrical grid (for example),” said Robert Austin, dean of business administration at the University of New Brunswick. Austin co-authored a case study called ‘data.gov’ which outlines the complexity of open data policies within the United States government.

“There are pretty profound philosophical differences that come up when you start talking about open data in government. A lot of it has to do with how much you trust the right thing to happen when the data comes to bear.”

Austin says he believes that ultimately open data is a good thing but freedom of information isn’t so cut and dry.

“If you’re going to do it the way the U.S. government has, you have to be OK with people taking your data, spinning it in a way that is convenient to them, and using it against you,” he said.

Lunn said that the city is cautious about what data is released and it would be unlikely any harm could come from it.

“There is always the negative side to these things. Our feeling is that there are going to be more benefits that are derived,” Lunn said.

“There is power in making your data available and people can grab it and come up with some very interesting uses.”

For anyone interesting in attending the T4G hosted event, below are links to data sets that I am interested in working with:

 
3 Comments  comments 
  • Gaëtane Godin

    Hi,
    Although I could find property tax and assessment without any big major problem, I have to congratulate you for your creativity and the growing potential of your initiative. If you could have a French version, it would be great and you could reach a lot more people. But you are a volunteer “Robin”. Maybe, eventually, it will be possible.

    Just a little suggestion: we have to browse through a long list before getting to the right city, municipality, LSD name. It could result in a frustrating search, just as the one that you try to avoid.
    Maybe by regrouping by areas, such as North East, West, South, etc could be helpful.
    Better, by alphabetical orders, it could be easier to get to the result in a a faster way.

    Again, congratulations!

  • http://saintjohnshawn.com Shawn

    Hi Gaëtane,

    Thanks for the comment and suggestions! Send them along any time.

    I’ve only recently been given access to a locations dataset, so I hope to make use of it in a newer version. It would let me map each property by county (which would likely help narrow the results down).

    The address parts in it are also much more accurate – so you won’t need to know anything about taxing authorities (which most people don’t know anyway). I think that would make is much easier to use.

    Also, regarding French, you will be happy to know it’s built to be localized – the issue is that my French skills are non-existent! If you have any tips/leads on someone who would want to translate the English resource file, let me know :)

    Thanks,
    Shawn

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