Open the Data, Dump the Garbage

Adam DuVander
Jul. 08 2009, 02:00AM EDT

One man's garbage is another man's treasure. The same could hold true for the data behind your curb-side trash cans, according to David Eaves.

The civic-minded Vancouverite notes that garbage days are determined by zones described within PDF documents on the city's website. Why not make that information mashup-ready, Eaves asks. Developers could create apps to automatically locate zones by address and maybe even help citizens remember to get their can to the curb by sending them a timely email reminder.

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The ideas go on. If cities made even more garbage data available, apps could create many efficiencies, both for the city and its people. In many cases, this data is already being collected, such as every time a stop isn't services and the reason for skipping it.

Tim Bray calls it the Hello World for Open Data, referring to a concept programmers use as an initial test case. This example comes at a perfect time when cities like Washington D.C. are opening their data. In the U.S. we have a burgeoning catalog of government data. Last fall the U.K. requested developers to show it a better way by explicitly soliciting mashups, providing data and ideas.

These are a couple of relatively rich countries. What makes the garbage example special is that it shows how local governments can make a difference by opening their data. And they can do it not with a sweeping initiative, but one little department at a time.

For ideas, be sure to see our Government API listings and the Government Mashups others have created.

[Hat tip: O'Reilly Radar]

Adam DuVander -- Adam heads developer relations at Orchestrate, a database-as-a-service company. He's spent many years analyzing APIs and developer tools. Previously he worked at SendGrid, edited ProgrammableWeb and wrote for Wired and Webmonkey. Adam is also the author of mapping API cookbook Map Scripting 101.

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