Saturday, November 20, 2010

Open data: Smarter solutions for better cities

Video from - Thanks Gordon!

Municipal governments have lots of information. Although it's hard to predict the benefits, public information should be made available in a form that computers can use.

Application developers would be able to create interesting ways of remixing that information and making it more useful.

Imagine that snowplow crews kept track of which roads were cleared, in realtime, and fed that data to applications which could keep track of which roads were passable, and after a big dump of snow, could give you an idea of how long before your crescent would be cleared. It would save you having to call to ask when your road would be cleared, because you could find that out yourself.

Or, imagine that realtime GPS tracks from every bus in the city were available, along with what route they're on and the number of the individual bus. What could you do with that information?

With the right application, you could tell where the bus is, and whether you've missed it or not. You could find out how long you'll have to wait for the bus, and whether you have time to run back and grab that thing you forgot.

A clever application developer could even use the GPS tracks as a proxy for traffic congestion and provide realtime traffic reports, so its users could avoid areas of congestion.

Smartphone-using drivers could contribute to the dataset by uploading their (anonymized) GPS tracks in realtime as well. (WEB UPDATE - THIS IS STARTING TO HAPPEN.) (I'm going 25 km/h on this part of the highway.) With enough participation, you'd have a live traffic congestion map. (That highway's slow right now.) Smart direction finding programs could then take traffic into account when giving you directions.

Some interesting experiments are happening in Calgary with closed captioning of their council meetings, machine translation, and webcasts on youtube. They are leveraging things that already exist to provide access to non-english speakers.

Of course the most exciting possibilities are the ones that haven't been imagined yet. With the data electronically available and applications can be developed to sift, recombine and present the data in ways that haven't been imagined yet. Moreover, the innovative cities that take the lead on this give themselves an advantage.

Making public information available electronically will provide more opportunities for developers to build interesting and useful applications.

Thanks to the #yycdata innovators for inspiring this column and bringing these ideas to life. -A.

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1 comment:


    DJ has more on this if you're interested in Open Data in Calgary.