Totally great that the biggest word there is “share.”
Posts Tagged ‘data’
I was alerted by @iancapstick last Friday that voting records for Canada’s MPs are now available on the Parliamentary Website. Here’s the G&M story about it that he tweeted. Nice that this has been made available.
Yesterday, I decided to check it out for myself, so I hopped on over to www.parl.gc.ca – Front and centre on the main page there’s a box for me to enter my postal code to find my MP – so that’s what I did found myself on the page for my local MP. But no voting record.
Confused, I turned back to the G&M story and read it again:
To view an MP’s record, head to the website and click on the ‘Senators and Members’ link to find your member of the House of Commons. Your MP’s site will list whether they voted yea, nea, or didn’t vote at all on any given bill.
Ahh, I was looking in the wrong place. Following this procedure, I was able to get to the right page showing my MP’s voting history.
But the question remains – why on earth are there separate listings like that? What’s the point? Resulted for me in a very disruptive experience.
And then there’s the whole issue of the data itself – it is available via XML, but no API or similar method. I tweeted this on Friday also, and @gordonbonnar responded with: “Most of our parl related stuff is not that accessible programattically unfortunately. I wish we had a CA equiv to opencongress.” Indeed.
Actually, this reaction from Cory Doctorow on Boing Boing puts it all into perspective:
It’s about time, but what a lame execution… It’s time for some civic-minded Canadian hackers to slurp out all that data and reformat in a way that gives you real insight into what your elected representative is up to and how she compares to all the other politicos on the Hill.
Update: Here’s a couple of sites that scrape data on Parliamentary votes and represent it in interesting ways: How’d They Vote? has been indexing Hansard since 2005, while Our Parliament is more recent and pulls data from a variety of points.
Article from The Hook, a Charlottesville, VA, alternative-style weekly paper (a la Ottawa Xpress or Toronto’s Now Magazine).
Seems that Colin Drane, the guy behind SpotCrime, has had some trouble getting the powers-that-be in Charlottesville to play nice with him:
He launched Spotcrime.com and UCrime.com here October 8, shortly after Charlottesville police declined to provide him with the daily incident report it emails to local media. “The logic was, you have ads on your site and we’re not going to share,” relates Drane, who notes that the Hook, which receives the daily report, has ads on its website. He says city police plan to launch their own crime-tracking site on Google Maps.
Weird logic excuse if you ask me – taking Drane at his word, it’s as if the police force would rather spend their own time and resources developing a mashup rather than let SpotCrime do it for them for free.
Anyhow, there’s always the other side of the story:
City spokesman Ric Barrick says that the Charlottesville police daily incident report is available online, and that Drane “can go onto the website like anyone can.” … Barrick cautions that information on the daily incident report is raw, and what someone calls in as a crime may, upon investigation, turn out to be something completely different. “You have to be very careful in comparing this data,” he warns.
“I do feel like we’re more willing and transparent to get that to the public,” says Barrick. “Other jurisdictions don’t put it out at all. We do have a website. Other jurisdictions don’t. To say we don’t share isn’t fair– but we don’t put out every bit of crime data.”
The reliability factor is an issue, I suppose. I’m envisaging somebody calling the police about some crazy noise in the street at 2 a.m. that turns out to be cats fighting in an alley. But if the data is suspect, then why is it released to the local media and issued on Charlottesville’s police force website too? & why do so many police forces in other places release this data? I don’t get it.
In case you’re wondering in what form Charlottesville’s daily incident report is posted online, turns out that it is (what else) a PDF file that is basically a text table listing reported incidents and arrests with street names and relevant dates. No sorting possible. No mapping despite location data being one of the key pieces of info being provided. And being a PDF, it’s painful to parse or scrape. Ugh.
So overall– yes the Charlottesville police do make an effort to provide the data, but it’s not in a very useful format. SpotCrime provides a very useful way to present the kind of data that the Charlottesville police provide. Really they ought to be able to work together.
Aside: other SpotCrime tidbits:
- Free the Data for Crime Mapping – from the SpotCrime blog
- “exclusive interview” (read: email transcript) with SpotCrime Team
(Seen via this post on Mashable)
SpotCrime mashes up police reports (according to TechCrunch, 90% of the data is scraped this way) with Google Maps to provide crime maps for various cities. Users can filter by date, type of crime or time of day.
Above screen shot is the Ottawa map – here’s SpotCrime’s Ottawa site. Looks like over the last 2 months it’s all about vandalism, theft, and breaking and entering. Very different from Toronto’s profile, which appears to be much more about face to face confrontation — assault, robbery and a few shootings for good measure.
Many other major Canadian cities are included as well – see the list.
SpotCrime also allows users to click on the map icons to get additional detail on each incident and a link to the source data – every one that I clicked through pointed me to a police report of some sort. Users can also sign up for crime alerts or report a crime. Not sure how this last bit works – how is the info vetted? I’m sure there’s more than a few folks out there that might get some kicks out of abusing this. But help documentation on the site is, uh, lacking, and I didn’t go poking around the SpotCrime blog to see if they’d addressed this issue.
Anyhow, it’s still a pretty nice re-use of government data. Very simple and easy to grasp quickly. Much more user-oriented and immediate that the Ottawa Police’s own crime statistics reporting, which is essentially a set of PDF files (ugh) that list reported crimes by district and month.
I wonder how long it’ll take before the Ottawa police decide to collaborate with these folks or someone similar? Would make a lot of sense – they could drop their PDFs and just point folks to SpotCrime or deliver it through their site.
Interesting that despite the fact that Radiohead’s sound hasn’t progressed since their Kid A/Amnesiac breakthrough back in the day, the band continues to keep my attention in other ways.
They’ve just released a very cool video that was created using rotating laser scanners, 3D imaging and data visualization techniques — and no film or cameras.
Says the director of the video, James Frost (who’s done videos for the Flaming Lips among others):
In a weird way it’s a direct reflection of where we are in society… that everything is data. Everything around us is data-driven in some shape or form, and we’re so reliant on it now. It seems like our lives are digital, and so in that sense, it definitely felt apt.
Actually, that is as good an explanation for the current data visualization craze as I’ve heard yet.
Aesthetically, “House of Cards” reminds me a little of Tron, crossed with those toy boxes with rows of movable cylindrical metal pins that make a 3D contour when you press your hand or face on them (what the heck are they called?).
And Google is totally getting in on the action – Google Code is also hosting the video, as well as a “making of” clip (where I got the quote from the director above) and assorted other goodies for programmers who want to do remixes/mashups.
It’ll be interesting to see what comes out of making the data and source code available. There’s already 15 videos posted to the official YouTube group. Most focus on fiddling with the image data - this one is neat – but there’s already one that takes a hack at both the visual and auditory channel.
Posted in bureaucracy, collaboration, Web 2.0, tagged bureaucracy, collaboration, data, database, Gapminder, government, government 2.0, Hans Rosling, mashup, open government, open source, Princeton, privacy, statistics, Web 2.0 on 11 June 2008 | 2 Comments »
(Image source: Unhindered by Talent on Flickr)
My trusty Google Alerts on all things Govt 2.0 have been feeding me a steady trickle of reaction and reportage on a draft paper from scholars at Princeton which was released last month. In the paper the authors argue that the US federal government should pretty much get out of the business of maintaining websites and simply release the data.
In order for public data to beneﬁt from the same innovation and dynamism that characterize private parties’ use of the Internet, the federal government must reimagine its role as an information provider. Rather than struggling, as it currently does, to design sites that meet each end-user need, it should focus on creating a simple, reliable and publicly accessible infrastructure that “exposes” the underlying data. Private actors, either nonproﬁt or commercial, are better suited to deliver government information to citizens and can constantly create and reshape the tools individuals use to ﬁnd and leverage public data. The best way to ensure that the government allows private parties to compete on equal terms in the provision of government data is to require that federal websites themselves use the same open systems for accessing the underlying data as they make available to the public at large.
Typical reaction from the Web 2.0 set is along the lines of:
That’s a compelling vision of the future of open government, and one that makes a lot of sense. The idea is something like CSS — which separates the display code of a web site from the content. A government data platform would separate the content from the task of displaying it, which the commercial and non-profit spaces are likely better suited for than the government itself.
OK, well sure, makes sense that someone who’s got buckets of data that was publicly paid for (like Stats Canada, to take a Canuck example) should be making it freely available for others to use, for mashups or something similar.
This is basically the same argument that Hans Rosling makes with his Gapminder project and in this mind-melting presentation at TED from a couple of years back (presenting macroeconomics data like a sportscaster — wow!). He’s been working specifically with UN data, but the idea is still basically the same.
But to suggest that Govt should get out of the Web business altogether is absurd.
First off, there’s the privacy issue – lots of Govt data is about individual citizens. I’m not sure how well people would take it if their information was being accessed by marketers or advertisers who were able to freely connect to the social insurance database or the passport database. Think of the Facebook vs privacy controversy – and then up the angst by orders of magnitude. So while making some govt data more freely available is a good thing, there’s lots of data that the bureaucracy holds that really no one else should be able to get at. (But this isn’t really a Web publishing issue is it – it’s more about NOT publishing at all.)
More importantly, there are other compelling reasons for the existence of Government Web sites than just to provide a shell for their databases – like, well, gee, how about informing citizens about what Govt is up to? Don’t you want to know how your taxes are being used? Don’t you want to know how the government of the day is responding to issues or dealing with crises?
As a citizen, I’d be pretty miffed if I could no longer go to directly to www.parl.gc.ca to see what’s going on in Parliament. Sure, most of the time it’s a bore, and the really big news gets reported by the media and blogosphere, but I still like the idea that I can go there and see for myself what is happening — without any filter. And plus the protocol stuff is pretty funny.
Or what about getting access to government services – I would rather go to www.canada.gc.ca directly to find out how to apply for government services than have to check with a third party. And if I wanted to check on the status of my tax refund? Again I’m not sure that I’d want to go to a third party to see whether my cheque is in the mail or not (here’s an example where privacy and Web publishing come together).
Basically, framing the issue as an either/or choice doesn’t make a lot of sense for me. There is lots of room for both opening up govt databases for third party use and also to maintain a solid govt web presence.