Some (final) notes on Barcamp Vancouver 2009

This is the third (and last) write-up on last weekend’s Vancouver Barcamp. Click through for parts one and two.

The final session I attended was David Eaves‘s Open Data and Government session, which began with a focus on Vancouver’s Open Data Catalogue initiative.

Eaves is a well-known advocate in the public policy field for open data in government at all levels. In Vancouver, his efforts in municipal politics (he sits on the executive of Vision Vancouver, the municipal slate that’s currently in charge at City Hall) have borne fruit with Vancouver’s entry into open data. On September 30, Eaves blogged the three laws of open government data, which helped set the stage for Saturday’s Barcamp session.

The 3 laws, in brief:

  1. If it can’t be spidered or indexed, it doesn’t exist (through search engines, users/citizens must be able to find the data); 
  2. If it isn’t available in open and machine readable format, it can’t engage (you have to be able to “play” with the data, it has to be transferable into a design space); 
  3. If a legal framework doesn’t allow it to be repurposed, it doesn’t empower (it has to be legal to share what you’ve created with that data).

At one point, Eaves noted that Canada tends to violate rule 3 – in the US, “we the people” own the data, but in Canada it’s the Crown’s. He clarified the situation in a follow-up post, open data – usa vs. canada– it’s somewhat complex, click through to read (read the comments, too).

During last Saturday’s Barcamp session, Ducky (aka Kate Sherwood, aka Kaitlin Duck Sherwood) demo’d a nifty mapping application that lets users hone in on neighborhood boundaries, find political / election information, and also zoning information. While I can’t find a link to what she showed us, click through to US State legislators’ affiliations and Median household income map done for an idea of Ducky’s map and data mash-ups.

Other examples included transitdb (“improving access to transit information,” in alpha); Tylor Sherman’s Water!, which used information in Vancouver’s Open Data Catalog (and see Sherman’s ~9min. “how-to” on Vimeo if you want to create your own map); and of course the city of Nanaimo. What? Nanaimo? Yep, Nanaimo.

Open data and what will emerge when it’s readily accessible to developers is a hot topic right now. A couple of days ago, John Geraci posted How Long is Your City’s Tail? to O’Reilly, to point out that giving the data over to big corporations (Google, eg.) isn’t going to open the field up to “the tail” – the space where everyone can “play.” And on the same day (10/7) VC Fred Wilson blogged that he’ll be jurying NYC’s BigApps Challenge competition (“Developers compete to build apps ‘in keeping with New York City’s drive to become more transparent, accessible, and accountable and an easier place to live, work and play” – $20,000 in cash prizes, etc.).

It’s great to know that Canada has David Eaves kicking the tires. And at the risk of getting kicked in the shins, I’ll just add that I hope Canadians become a bit more like Americans with regard to taking control of our data.