On to the Hackathon, Maps at the Ready
This year is looking to be a big year in open data, e-democracy, and Gov 2.0. More information is coming online, and more people are thinking of ways to use it. And mapping and location-based applications will be one of the most interesting areas to watch.
As a wannabe journalist and longtime evangelist for citizen journalism, I've been obsessed with transparency and the availability of public information. And the geek in me, in recent years, is very excited by the possibilities in mining "big data."
But while governments are custodians of some of the largest and most valuable datasets out there, there are countless challenges involved in making them available to the public or the geeks that want to play with them. I've documented my own adventures in trying to gain access to public data, which inspired a vestigal attempt at a Hawaii Open Data wiki.
But to its credit, the City & County of Honolulu has been making big plans and taking real steps toward surfacing the data it holds. From the "Can-Do" city transparency portal, to co-sponsoring and actively participating in the first Honolulu CityCamp last month, it seems like people both within and outside government walls want to connect.
And this year brings Honolulu's engagement with the national Code For America project, which is an ambitious effort to transform government by developing and implementing best practices across the country.
And in two weeks, big ideas are going to be hammered into actual code.
On Jan. 20 & 21, the CityCamp Hackathon will be held at McCoy Pavilion in Ala Moana Beach Park. The plan is to take some of the ideas for online tools, web apps and mobile apps dreamed up in December and build working prototypes that could potentially become important parts of Honolulu civic life. Though something could come up and be built from scratch on the spot, people are already forming teams (there's a meetup taking place tomorrow) and fleshing out their ideas.
Yes, there is still a lot of data that people want that's not yet available. And even the city admits that it doesn't have a comprehensive directory of the data that's already out there. But maps are one of the most compelling components of websites and apps, and in recent weeks, the city has been putting more of its GIS map data online, just in time for the Hackathon.
Today brought the publication of a four-part "GIS Guide for Honolulu Hackers." The guide was prepared and announced by Royce Jones on the CityCamp mailing list. Jones previously served as Senior GIS Analyst with GDSI Hawaii and is the head of the Honolulu office for ESRI (one of the world's leading Geographic Information System firms). The guide was posted in PDF format on the GDSI site:
"Big Mahalo to Royce Jones from ESRI for putting these GIS guides together," wrote Forest Frizzell, deputy director of the city's IT department. "This is really great stuff and its one of the first data offerings from the City."
The guide offers a great walk-through with several screenshots, and links to documentation and live services. I thought it was an interesting read, even though I'm nowhere near technically skilled enough to make use of it. It mostly reveals the potential and possibilities of this kind of data and the things that can be done with it.
If you like daydreaming or brainstorming about that sort of stuff, consider participating in the Hackathon. You don't have to be a programmer or software developer or even really a geek. A team needs all kinds of people, and if you're interested in e-democracy, you definitely have something to contribute.