Flutterby™! : Assembling a crack team

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Assembling a crack team

2009-04-15 22:36:10.912874+00 by Dan Lyke 7 comments

I've mentioned that I've started to get interested in hacking on government data. Charlene and I did some graphs from various historical Federal and State data a few months back, but government at that level is something I don't much have the patience for. Too much boneheaded appeasement for me to get excited about playing those games. The local level, though, seems like something I can enjoy playing with as a hobby.

So I've started to talk to folks in and around the city government, and, for the most part, I'm being met with tremendous enthusiasm. Everyone wants to see more citizen involvement, most of the data is supposed to be public, but no one uses it, and the idea that any of this stuff would become valuable, rather than just filed away for the archives, is exciting. They're already doing what they can to pull disparate departments together and get them all on common databases, and then share that stuff with the world. They have an application that allows looking at the various GIS data. They broadcast meetings of the various councils and advisory councils. However, they're having a hell of a time justifying all this stuff that feels pretty core to the notion of open governments when only a few citizens actually take advantage of this stuff. The only time anyone cares is when issues get all NIMBY, and though they won't actually say it, I'm guessing that's the same fifteen people each time.

Here's the problem: I need to find a couple of other hackers who'd like to figure out ways to do interesting and educational things with city data. I'd like to find ways to create an open source sort of approach to evaluating and reporting city information so that we can transcend the limited ways that the local paper gives us "news", so that we can go back to original sources, and so that we have a better dialog among the residents (because the level of discours on the local paper's forums is pretty weak).

So I'm trying to figure out how to put together a "government data user's group", and publicize it. I'd like to keep this a group interested in data more than issues, I don't want yet another group of "progressives" or "patriots" trying to control the discussion by talking louder or asserting things that don't stand up to research. I'd like to find applications, users of those applications, and people to implement them, that could be more than a novelty.

Any suggestions on how to write the flyer and how to publicize the call?

[ related topics: Open Source Current Events Community Databases ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2009-04-16 00:22:54.033271+00 by: ebradway

Do you want these people local to Petaluma? Either way, plan to go to WhereCamp next month. There'll be folks there interested in this sort of thing.

And there's huge value in just scanning lots of government docs to OCR'd PDF, tagging, and posting. Let Google do the hard work of cross-indexing.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-04-16 00:30:08.511614+00 by: ebradway

Oh... And I'm not really familiar with GeoSmart's platform (that the City of Petaluma is running their parcel viewer on)... But if you can get access to the datafeeds (via WMS or the like), you can use their data layers as a basemap under your data.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-04-16 17:53:45.589972+00 by: Dan Lyke

I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to get down to WhereCamp, but I'd like to. Another place people are playing with this stuff is DIYcity, but they're mostly concerned with things like bus schedules and such. Most of our bus traffic is long-distance commuter, and our transit service is apparently in process of equipping all of the buses with devices to get better real-time route info anyway.

One of the places I wanted to start is that the city budget historical data is all bitmap PDF, I was going to try to rig up some sort of PDF to PBM to gocr pipe and start feeding it those.

I've talked to Trae, the guy who's responsible for the city's GIS stuff, and I'm pretty sure I could get their datafeeds, but I need applications that make it worth me pestering them to do so. That's part of the hard bit.

And I'm not tied to just Petaluma, one of the things that excites some of the Petaluma folks is the notion of publishing in formats that other towns in the county could publish, to help break the county out of its lack of getting real data out there. On the other hand, I wanted to start where I could have the most impact on my environs.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-04-16 20:47:42.271254+00 by: ebradway

The nice thing about using OpenLayers instead of the Google Maps API is that it's not too hard to change your basemap from Google to, say, the Petaluma GIS data layers.

OCR'ing the PDFs is probably the best place to start. Then mass geocoding!

Then use OpenLayers+Petaluma GIS to give a UI to pull up the PDFs based on location.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-04-16 20:48:46.766102+00 by: ebradway

FYI: I'll have a hotel in San Jose until Saturday morning. WhereCamp is Friday and Saturday someplace in Palo Alto.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-04-16 21:05:56.507758+00 by: Dan Lyke

So I've been using Geocoder.us so far, caching results. It seems to be working for the relatively low workload I'm throwing at it, I suppose I should see what Google and Yahoo are offering too.

#Comment Re: made: 2009-04-17 00:23:36.729948+00 by: skrubly

As a former Sonoma County resident, I find the whole idea very interesting - of course, I'm interested to see what the data really is to get an idea of neat ideas to present it. Latley I've been doing a lot of visualization stuff at work that has been fun, maybe some graphs or relationship trees would be cool.