(Screenshot from Code for America)
OpenDataPhilly.org was unveiled with a roar last Monday as part of Philly Tech Week. But while a catalog of regional data, APIs and applications is a treasure trove to some, it’s a brick wall to many others.
Data, thou art inscrutable.
As a better example of why releasing data is important, two Code for America fellows with help from a third developed and launched the Philadelphia Mural Guide app. Aaron Ogle and John Mertens, with Mjumbe Poe, used the MuralFarm collection of locations, images and other information on the city’s expansive outdoor art, to develop the project. The app received enough attention that Web 2.0 star Tim O’Reilly tweeted its grandeur.
“It’s a web-based application that can be viewed from a mobile device or desktop browser,” says Jeff Friedman, recently named Mayor Nutter’s Manager of Civic Innovation and Participation, noting it also shares details and images of included pieces. “It will locate your position on a map and your proximity to mural artwork in Philadelphia.”
So, follow this path. Government and institutions, like the Mural Arts Program, had already configured data releases and put them into an ocean of noise, the waves occasionally catching the toes of an interested developer. OpenDataPhilly.org, built by GIS shop Azavea, finally gave a single, searchable, curated catalog of the entire ocean. Using ODP, Ogle, Mertens and Poe walked right up to the water and snatched what they wanted.
“This is something that can help people appreciate Philadelphia,” said Poe at Friday’s Philly Tech Week Signature Event, where the app was formally announced. “And it can help make clear just what the release of data can mean.”
The call for the application came within a City of Philadelphia Division of Technology stakeholders group, when this reporter expressed need for an example of what data could do. A small suggestion was taken by stakeholder group leader and city consultant Paul Wright, of Fuzebox, to Tropo developer Mark Headd and other members who started culling through the then-unreleased data catalog for what could be an easy win.
The CFA fellows caught wind and jumped in, building the Mural Arts app in their spare time. The code for the app is available on GitHub, says Friedman, “so anyone can fork it modify it or use it to build another, similar type of app.”