In the information age, data is king, and how we use the data all around us, from tracking transit schedules to monitoring traffic delays, is becoming increasingly important. This Monday, the Louisville Transportation Camp will help to push the city into this data-filled future. The event, organized by Michael Schnuerle of Metro Mapper, will bring together officials from the parking and transit authorities including TARC Director Barry Barker, Metro Louisville Innovation Director Ted Smith, and Councilman Tom Owen to help brainstorm how data can be better used in Louisville. The event is free and is taking place from 5:00p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at tech-company Autodemo at 1129 Payne Street in Irish Hill.
We recently had a conversation with Michael and asked him about how open data is transforming cities across the country, what it means for Louisville, and what will be going on at the Louisville Transportation Camp.
Why is open data important? How can using data better improve our lives?
Open data is important for governments because it saves taxpayer money. By putting public data online that is currently lock-up in internal databases, they save staff time and reduce duplication of effort. The number people it takes just to fulfill FOIA requests is staggering. If a city government can put it’s data online in a way the public can visualize and understand, like an interactive map, not only will the public use this to answer their own questions, but the government itself can use it to fulfill requests much faster.
Other benefits include increasing government transparency and openness, creating more engaged and informed citizens, and increasing the speed of delivery of critical information. You can see some more city benefits at GovMapper including a video case study of Portland, OR.
For the public, open data means access to complete, timely, and valuable local information. For a specific address or neighborhood, this information can help you discover important events that you would have been ignorant to otherwise. This can include crime reports, health ratings, building permits and zoning changes, property values and recent home sales, foreclosures, car accidents, and anything else tied to an address. Having access to all this improves our involvement with our community, our ability to take action, and helps us make better decisions in many areas of our lives.
From a business standpoint, open data can improve our regional competitiveness by giving entrepreneurs quicker and fuller access to data. In every city where open data is available, dozens of new companies have sprung up, and existing companies have pulled in the data to enhance their products, which provides more jobs, more innovation, and reducing high-tech brain-drain.
You can see some more citizen benefits at the Open Municipal Geodata Standard website.
What are some examples of how open data could improve city life in Louisville?
If Louisville can follow the open data successes of other cities like Portland, NYC, and DC, we can expect to see websites, visualization tools, and mobile apps built off the data that improve our city life. Tools that help individuals learn about the history and safety of a place, businesses make better decisions about where to locate, home buyers find the best home, visitors understand our city and get around, and families keep their children safe and involved.
As good data becomes available, companies start incorporating it into their websites. Realtors can instantly show crime, recent home sales, property values, and restaurants directly in their home listing web pages.
TARC recently began sharing data with Google for their bus routes and schedules. Is this open data and how can it get to the next level?
It’s fantastic that TARC has joined hundreds of other cities and added their transit data to every Google Maps interface for free. It is open data in TARC’s case because they have made the decision to make publicly available all of this data (they had the option to keep it private). Anyone can grab the same raw data that Google gets from a public transit feed and use it in their apps.
The next level would be to add real-time GPS-based bus locations to the data. This is an optional upgrade that would use TARC’s existing GPS transponder devices. It would allow people to know exactly when a delayed bus will arrive, and track individual busses’ physical locations in web and mobile apps.
Tell us about the Louisville Transportation Camp.
The camp is a one night event that will kickstart entrepreneur’s and developer’s use of all of Louisville’s currently available local data. This includes TARC’s transit feed but also PARC data, Louisville’s Open Data Initiative, and the information I’m collecting through Your Mapper.
The goal of the camp is to examine and mine the technical format of the data feeds and lay the groundwork for building apps and websites using the raw data. I want everyone to know what we have, brainstorm ideas for how we can use it, work together to come up with some prototypes, and continue the work afterwards. It’s also a great opportunity to garner support for the city’s open data site, see what other data sets are in demand, and how everything can be improved.
It’s going to be a great tech-focused event, and so far we have some terrific local talent attending (some of whom are already building apps in preparation for the event), and some great local sponsors. See the Event Page for all tools, the schedule, and more information.
In a world with unlimited open data and entrepreneurs willing to break it down, what can we expect?
I think we will see a convergence of good data, location, and mobility. Basically, wherever you are, have been, or plan to be, you will have access to a wealth of information around those locations, both related to you and related to all known public data. So for a location you will have access to all government public records of the place, which sounds dry, but would include crime reports, property values history charts, nearby food reports, population and cultural trends in the area, and future happenings. And this will be visually presented and intuitively understood cutting through the data clutter, using augmented reality, smart devices, and a great display with better user interfaces.
For an example of some of these concepts, check out open data contest sites, like NYC Big Apps, MTA App Quest, Open Data Hackathons, and App Contest ( Big Apps II, Apps for Californians, Philly, Baltimore, Portland, Apps for Ottowa, Apps for Edmonton, OpenGov West, Apps for Communities).