Hacking data in Ottawa

Matt Davidson and Jesse Burcsik wanted a better way to check the conditions of the Rideau Canal Skateway in Ottawa.

While the National Capital Commission has a web site listing whether or not the canal is open for skating, it lacks a mobile version and an RSS feed to get the ice conditions faster.

So, they set about creating their own web site by scraping the data from the official site, a long and tedious process.

Also, a process that can avoided entirely if more government departments adopted “open data policies.”  

An open data policy is when government departments agree to put up all their data on an easily accessible web site in machine readable form, allowing anyone to use it as they see fit, including bulding applications around the data.

The City of Ottawa may soon be the latest municipality to adopt such a blanket policy, following Vancouver, Edmonton and Toronto.

Showing support for the initiative, nearly 100 people showed up for the first Open Data Ottawa Hackfest.

Open Data Ottawa Hackfest

Teams were formed, data was scraped and apps were built using what little information is accessible from the city.

For example, Eat Safe Ottawa, which uses restaurant inspection data to quickly determine if the restaurant you’re planning on eating at has passed food safety inspections.

Or an OC Transpo heat-map, using transit data to graphically display which bus stops have the most buses passing through.

Or an iPhone that lets users see traffic cameras to gauge traffic conditions.

These are just a few of the apps created using scraped and scarce data and show what could be accomplished with even more data released.

A proposal for the City of Ottawa to adopt an open data policy will be tabled May 12th.

City of Ottawa Chief Information Officer Guy Michaud has been involved in the discussions and said he’s heard no opposition to the idea.

Should council vote in favour of the policy, Michaud said he’s ready to start getting data up online with 24 hours.

In the meantime, many developers are already hacking away with what they have, even creating an app store for applications created using data in Ottawa.