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Washington, DC's Government Push for Open Data and Map Mashups

Washington, DC is emerging as a leader in opening government data. In November 2008 the city made more than 200 real-time data streams available to the public as part of their “Apps for Democracy” contest, a city-sponsored competition that asked local web developers to analyze the city’s data and build web applications around it that DC residents would find useful. Think of it like an “Iron Chef” competition for websites, using data sets including DC’s Crime Reports or Liquor Licenses and GIS data like Road Polygons, Water Polygons, Bike Lanes, and Metro Stations.

The contest worked. The Apps for Democracy contest yielded an estimated 4000% return on investment for the city 1, and the winning sites demonstrate the value to governments of opening up their data for easier public use.

The first half of this talk aims to explore the benefits of open data streams from governments and share ideas with the audience for petitioning government organizations to make data more accessible. Toward this end, it will cover how the Apps for Democracy competition was run and how it can easily be used as a pattern for other cities.

The second half of the talk will focus on two of the winning applications in some detail to help illustrate the real and (often times) unexpected value that open data present to a community. OutsideinDC.com and StumbleSafely.com respectively help DC residents find the best way to bike to work and the safest way to walk home at the end of the night from their local bar. These extremely niched websites leverage esoteric data elements in practical combinations to help meet real needs for residents, and they provide great illustrations of the kind of possibilities that exist for using open data.

Here is a closer review of the two sample sites, both built using all open source software:

www.OutsideinDC.com is a guide to biking in Washington, DC. You can find detailed bike routes for commuting or fun, monitor bike theft in real-time, and see all the bikes for sale on Craigslist. This is a community space meant to make DC more bike friendly. If you have a tip or want to sound off on biking in DC, just add #dcbike to a Twitter message and it will show up on the front page of this site.

It doesn’t matter when or where in DC you start drinking for Stumble Safely to help you get home without incident. Stumble Safely’s maps show crime data sortable by daytime, evening or night incidents to let users identify the incidents most relevant to their schedules. And since the bar scene is all about bringing friends together, there is a listing for key terms like Adams Morgan (local neighborhood), Busboys and Poets (local restaurant), and others that show where the party is via Twitter.

It will be led by Eric Gundersen, president of Development Seed, whose organization built both of the sites.

1 http://www.istrategylabs.com/apps-for-democracy-yeilds-4000-roi-in-30-days-for-dcgov/

Photo of Eric Gundersen

Eric Gundersen


Eric co-founded Development Seed more than five years ago and leads our communications strategy. One of Eric’s talents is seeing the big picture. This, combined with his ability to spot trends and shifts before practically everyone else, helps him come up with many of our brilliant ideas. His leadership and motivational skills turn many of these ideas into real communication tools that enable our clients to do more.

Eric is a strong communicator who knows how to ask the right questions to get the root of our clients’ needs. He works closely with our clients in the start of projects to understand their goals and craft innovative and effective approaches that will meet them.

Eric is a specialist in knowledge management and has presented his strategies and several of the tools we’ve built at conferences around the world. He’s involved with the MobileActive community, particularly with SMS campaigns and creating ringtones like “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job." Eric has also appeared on Nightline to discuss culture jamming and Chevy Tahoe’s consumer generated advertisements and the online backlash.

Eric earned his Masters Degree in International Development from American University in Washington, DC. He started Development Seed while researching technology access and microfinance in Peru.