Open Data Event Rallies Developers

Adam DuVander
May. 11 2010, 12:46AM EDT

"In any organization you can be a Dilbert or a Wally," according to Craigslist founder Craig Newmark. "Dilbert hasn't given up yet, but Wally has." The analogy was appropriate for the developer-heavy crowd at last week's Open APIs for Government event. The setting--San Francisco City Hall--was also appropriate, because Newmark may have been speaking more to those in charge of continuing to open up government data.

The event was part celebration and part rallying cry for open data. O'Reilly Media's Tim O'Reilly explained that government needs to move beyond thinking of itself as the creators of finished applications. Instead, governments should create the platforms. "You don't have to do it all," O'Reilly said. "You release the toolset and people go to town."

Investor and former founder of Lotus 1-2-3 Mitch Kapor encouraged developers to move beyond creating applications that scratch their own itch. "We ought to be creating things that work for the people of the city," he said. Kapor shared that he is investing in Block Chalk (our Block Chalk API profile), a mobile application that lets you have geotagged conversations in your neighborhood.

There were many examples of government apps in action, especially those using the Open311 standard. Open311 apps, such as SeeClickFix, help citizens report non-emergency issues to their governments and track the progress. An intro to Open311 presentation by Phillip Ashlock, who also spoke at the San Francisco event, is embedded above.

Viewed from the government side, Open311 is a way for cities to provide better customer service to their citizens. Newmark, who famously refers to his job at Craigslist as customer service, is encouraged that we are "seeing the widespread deployment of tools to listen to the people and let them set the agenda." His message to developers? "Focus on what's real. Real things show what's happening in government."

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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