Every once in a while, it’s nice to be reminded that open data isn’t about data sets or apps, it’s about people and ideas.
Last night our CTO Pete Forde herded the BuzzData team over to the Gladstone to check out the latest Tech Talk Toronto speakers, a couple of young guys from Ottawa who work for an web company called Shopify. It wasn’t what I expected, but it was definitely a welcome surprise.
FROM LEFT: toronto.ca/open open-data curators Derek Matthew, Joseph McLarty, and Reham Gorgis, alongside the Tony Robbinses of Ottawa’s open data scene, Edward Ocampo-Gooding and Daniel Beauchamp. Photo courtesy of E. Ocampo-Gooding.
Though Edward Ocampo-Gooding and Daniel Beauchamp now work full-time at Shopify, their talk wasn’t a promotional plug for the brand. Instead, they gushed effusively and with unbridled enthusiasm (to borrow from Seinfeld) about the open-data community they helped forge in Ottawa.
“We don’t have that many datasets, we’re kind of envious of Toronto’s data,” Beauchamp said on stage, comparing the City of Ottawa’s open data catalogue to Toronto’s comparatively diverse data site. In fact, when the two first started compiling public data more than a year ago, the city didn’t even have a catalogue. “We had to go to the sites and write our Perl scripts and what-not and grab all the data from it — a real pain in the ass.”
The remarkable thing is they went and did it anyway — they scraped the public data, put together an effective promotional campaign for a hackfest, made the effort to target a broad audience across the city, and most impressive of all, got non-technical citizens engaged and participating as well.
“That’s my little cousin there,” Beauchamp said, while clicking through photo slides of the April 2010 hackfest. “She’s like 11 years old, and I said, you know what, I’m going to invite her out because open data is for everyone, so why not get kids there, too?”
Ocampo-Gooding pointed to another slide, this one of a woman, saying, “This is a mother who walked in and said, ‘Hey, I heard about you guys on the radio. What is this open data stuff about?’”
Rather than alienate her with technical talk, Ocampo-Gooding said he asked her point-blank what frustrates her most in her day-to-day life. “She said, ‘Oh, well, figuring out what to do with my six-year-old son on a Saturday morning is a monumental pain in the ass. It would be lovely if I could be informed of the things I could do.’ ”
From there, Ocampo-Gooding consulted his girlfriend Mary-Beth Baker, a local librarian and “the brains behind the operation,” he claims — about what city data would address this problem. Then, after assigning a developer and a designer to the team, “they were proto-typing in four hours.”
All told, Beauchamp and Ocampo-Gooding attracted more than 100 people that day — “on a Saturday morning,” Ocampo-Gooding boasted gleefully — including mothers, artists, librarians and journalists, in addition to designers and developers. Together, they built about 20 apps in a single day. When Ottawa’s CIO Guy Michaud stopped by, Ocampo-Gooding claims “his mind was blown” seeing citizens brainstorming city improvements together and having fun doing it. Clearly, open government and e-government can work, provided city leaders keep an – ahem – open mind about it.
“The first thing that happens with open data is people think ‘apps,’ ” Ochampo-Gooding said. “Someone thinks, ‘Oh I know what we need — developers!’ ‘Developers, developers, developers, developers! That’s exactly what we need!’ ”
“It’s not true, it doesn’t work,” he went on. “All you end up with is a sausage party. It doesn’t get things done.”
Beauchamp and Ocampo-Gooding’s commitment to keeping the open data movement inclusive and fun fosters a communal, gregarious energy that’s infectious — I felt it firsthand at last night’s Tech Talk. The audience laughed freely at the pair’s whimsical, jestering style, called out suggestions and comments and stuck around to chat and meet new friends long after the talk had ended.
Thanks for coming, guys!