Baltimore data trove could spur new apps for citizens
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Imagine if our government made raw data — from crime trends to building permits to contract spending — freely available on the Web.
That's starting to happen. Washington, D.C., was a front-runner a couple years ago in making such information available, through http://data.dc.gov, and other cities have followed its lead. Another site, USASpending.gov, parses government spending at the federal level. And now, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s administration says it soon expects to offer a trove of data —for free — through a city Web portal.
What can citizens and technology enthusiasts do with huge chunks of Baltimore data? Just look at what's been done in Washington, D.C. Web developers there have built dozens of Web and mobile phone applications, including an app for the iPhone and Facebook that allows people to make and track 311 calls; an app that combines bike maps and crime data; and another that helps drivers find parking spots.
Ryan O'Doherty, a spokesman for Rawlings-Blake, said that the idea for making city data available through a Web portal came up a couple months ago and that the mayor gave the city's information technology department the job of developing the project.
“We're looking to Washington, D.C., as a model,” O'Doherty said.
Baltimore officials are still debating what data to release, but it could range from planning department to police department information. A launch date has not been set for the Baltimore Web data portal, but it is expected to go live this year.
What Web and mobile phone applications would you like to see designed using Baltimore data? I asked this question last week on my blog, BaltTech, and got some interesting responses.
Commenter Steve said he would like to see an application that tracks the prices of steamed and live crabs at crab houses across the region.
Commenter Hilzoy would like to see an “app that lets you report problems (potholes, graffiti, etc.), e-mail a picture in to go with it, track your request, etc.” — essentially a 311 mobile app. Hilzoy also noted that a “traffic app would be nice, as would a bus/subway/light rail schedule and map app.”
Commenter Andrew Hazlett wondered if the video feeds from the city's hundreds of blue-light police surveillance cameras could be made available online and through an app.
John Marsh, interactive director of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development (DBED), said governments should recognize the importance of mobile phone applications and move to provide information through them to citizens.
Marsh’s ideas include a daily budget and spending tracker application, a crime-mapping application based on a user's location, and a parking app that shows citizens where tickets are most likely to be issued.
He said DBED itself could benefit from a mapping and commercial real estate application that would allow businesses interested in moving to Maryland, or relocating within Maryland, to review available opportunities.
One of my own ideas is an application that would show new construction and permitting across the city. Or how about an app that tracks formation of new businesses and their locations?
Another app could help track housing code enforcement and allow citizens to file complaints easily.
Keep the ideas coming! Post more below!
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