Tag Archive for 'Public'

Playing games

Last week has been pretty intense. My department finalized a, for a regional planning agency, rather unusual project and ran a couple of community meetings during the week. What happened in those meetings wasn’t the typical PowerPoint presentation followed by a Q&A. People, mostly of younger age, played a 3D video game and participated that way to Boston’s Chinatown Masterplan process.

Emerson students created the excellent video below, that captures the very core of the project in about 3 minutes:

I only got during the final phase of the project involved, helped testing the game, setting up the website and organizing our community meetings, but it was an absolutely exciting experience to take part in. Especially the first community meeting, hosted for Chinatown residents, stood out with an highly energized atmosphere.

The game helped in the meeting as ice breaker, facilitated engaging discussions about the neighborhood and provided a fun environment for the audience to work with. We all were somehow surprised when we actually saw game mechanics kicking in. At the point where scores and winners are announced, people started cheering, got all excited, compared scores and discussed strategies why one couldn’t complete all tasks or what would have been a better way to play.

The good part: it all had serious, real world backgrounds – well, real world compressed into 30 minute tasks. However, the game deals with existing challenges of Chinatown residents. The game allows players to walk in somebody else’s shoes through Chinatown and complete tasks as another person, equipped with different skills and opportunities. It’s an educational game, used to gather feedback on and engage in an urban planning processes.

But it’s still fun to play, and fun is the one aspect I wouldn’t underestimate here. It helps to broaden the audience of the community meeting, attracts especially younger people and provides an experience you wouldn’t expect.

Although the game can be played online, it is designed for meetings, to be played by people located in the same room. The game serves as facilitator for participation and gets people talking to each other, very actively as we found out during the meeting. The game is not designed as standalone solution.

The online game version should extend the dialog started during the meeting and provide opportunities for others to chime in at any point (we’re working on it, almost there).

Further readings:

Killing public transport

At the last StreetTalk we watched the very interesting and highly recommended documentary “Taken for a Ride“. It’s the story about GM’s lobbying and initiatives, together with oil and tire companies, to destroy public transport in American cities, use public money for highway construction instead of railways, promote suburbs and urban sprawl, make people car-dependent and eventually push car (tires and gas) sales of course.

GM’s strategy, in a nutshell, was to pull public transport into a vicious circle. GM’s funding apparently helped to buy up local transportation companies, mainly with the goal to reduce their service. Cutting down quality led to loosing riders. Bad service and decreasing ridership caused troubles justifying public money and investments in public transportation. The downward spiral was completed and public transportation stagnated or was even shut down entirely in some places.

The really sad aspect of that story is, that America’s public transport was just about the same level as in European countries in the 1950′s. It could have made the same development as it did in the rest of the industrialized world during the past 50 years. It could have reached a status, were people are still free to choose their preferred transportation vehicle. Most Americans nowadays are left with only one choice for their daily commute: the car.

It’s hard and expensive for America to catch up and repair what GM’s lobbying has caused. Even though the highway lobbying might be less in the year 2009, car companies found new, mostly ridiculous, ways to use public tax money for their own interest and to eventually sell more cars: IntelliDrive is definitely among them.

Massachusetts transit data

The EOT here in Massachusetts does it (very well btw) and is receiving much attention: sharing raw governmental data and information.

Their motivation is quite simple: as public agency they collect, produce and hold lots of data and information. Eventually they want to see this information and data out there used by and helping people through services and applications. Instead of putting to much energy in internal developments, they decided to approach developer communities and ask what they’d need to build applications around EOT data. A very smart move if you ask me. They save costs on their side and attract a big creativity and innovation potential from a broad developer community at the same time.

The first result of that initiative several open data feeds, posted on the EOT developers page. If you’re interested in (Massachusetts) transit data you should do two three things:

  1. check out the EOT developers page
  2. join their Google Group for getting support or leaving feedback
  3. and sign-up for the Open Government Hack Day held on Sep 27th, hosted by BetaHouse in Cambridge.

In search of the point

What’s the point of having a national mapping agency when even semi-public agencies like our Umweltbundesamt (environmental agency) are doing data dissemination based on Google Maps and Geonames? [via joesonic]

Speaking of paleogeography is in that case certainly appropriate: neogeography makes the national mapping agency look like an endangered species. Even though I never really liked the terms and heated discussions about paleo- vs. neogeography. To me, paleogeography sounds way too negative for what it actually does. Paleogeography still provides a major part of the backend and a lot of necessary knowledge for the so called Geoweb. Period.

While neogeography is the cool thing. It’s fresh, slick, easy to use and attracts a lot of bright people outside the geography area who are doing amazing things with geographic information. Personally I see myself somewhere in between and try to get the best out of both.

Obviously some paleo organizations, like our national mapping agency is for instance, should look slightly to the left and to the right of their very straight path. It seems they are still serving the geo market of the last century. Their traditional products, like the topographic and cadastral maps, are certainly great and important works, but in the meantime they have to face the fact that the geo market has a little changed in the last couple of years.

Believe it or not, even in Austria there are map based businesses growing. Companies or start-ups who arrange their business models around easy and affordable access to local geographic information. Most of them depend on the goodwill of global players like Google or Microsoft. The EC usually is very quick when it comes to express concerns about monopolies of those companies and threaten them with law suits. I think, as for the geo market, the European mapping agencies have enough resources – in terms of geo data, infrastructure and knowledge – to throw into the game. They are powerful enough to compete with the big players, provide alternative map services and eventually support local economies. If they only wanted to.

Besides, the above mentioned example shows very well the benefits of neogeography for the public sector and that there is growing demand for such technologies.

So, again, where is the point of keeping a huge tax funded public body when it rejects to move on, serve current public needs, support local economies and public wealth?

Us & them

BEV shopsWhile others are offering an API or are working on even free access to public geodata, we are releasing a new portal with 5 different shop versions for public tax funded geodata.

Let alone that the world record attempt for using the smallest possible font size in an unlucky Cheetah UI rip-off isn’t quite state of the art in the year 2008. Especially not in times were public agencies are asked (by law!) to fulfill basic WAI requirements.

Difusión pública de la información geográfica

Escudo de EspañaLast week an interesting email dropped in my inbox. It links to a decree of the Spanish Ministry of Public Works (Ministerio de Fomento) about the Spanish geodata policy.

One paragraph of the decree is obviously talking about the INSPIRE directive, guaranteeing free public access to basically nothing more than metadata and pretty overview thumbnails of available public geodata.

While most European national mapping agencies stop at that point by just implementing catalog services and pretty map thumbnails, the Spanish government goes further: although I’m afraid my Spanish is not good enough to interpret legal documents 100% correctly, I think the email author is right saying the document talks about free access and (non-commercial, attribution) use of Spanish public geodata.

Artículo 3. Servicios de acceso, análisis y procesamiento en línea y distribución.

3. La descarga por medios telemáticos en línea, utilizando los servicios de información geográfica habilitados por el CNIG, para uso no comercial realizada por el usuario de la información geográfica producida por el IGN, será gratuita.

Artículo 7. Uso libre y gratuito.

La licencia de uso libre y gratuito será única y tendrá el siguiente alcance:

a) Exclusivamente para usos no comerciales.

b) Su concesión llevará implícito el compromiso de citar al Instituto Geográfico Nacional como autor y propietario de la información.

This is a MAJOR step for European geodata policy and it’ll be interesting to see if other governments will follow the excellent Spanish example.

The JRC recently published the report “Socio-Economic Impact of SDI” (62 pages pdf), clearly emphasizing the benefits of free public geodata:

8.2 Political and social impact

The socio-political impact areas of IDEC, in line with the objectives of the INSPIRE programme, affect a broad array of users, especially those linked to the public sector and to serving the general public (e.g. public administration, public services, and universities), such that the entire community benefits from access to information and spatial data. Nevertheless, this is an ongoing process that demands a change in mentality towards a culture of shared data, in which the contributions of each party enrich the whole and can be shared by all. Freeing this information will ultimately enable everyone to prosper from general social and economic development.

So there is hope that one day European taxpayers can freely access and use the products created with their own tax money.

Government data for Google

While Microsoft is successfully integrating Portugal’s aerials within Virtual Earth, Google is asking local governments for more 3D models to add in Google Earth. Adena sums both stories very well up.

What I found a little surprising on Google’s “give us your 3D models and we bring you tourists” initiative is that last week I read something about Hamburg’s and Berlin’s 3D models in Google Earth at Geografitti (in german):

Both cities do offer 3D models for Google Earth. Since their server capacity is limited, the 3D data doesn’t load fast enough for a smooth user experience and users keep complaining at Google (!!) for the poor performance. So the question was to put the city 3D models onto Google’s infrastructure and achieve better viewing results in Google Earth. But the problem for local governments and the reason why they couldn’t eventually find a solution was that apparently Google wouldn’t allow them to access and control their data (e.g. for updates) once it’s loaded on Google’s infrastructure.

Google Earth is an amazing geo-browser and the public would definitely benefit if more public geodata would be accessible through it. On the other hand, local authorities are sometimes strange to deal with and I have my doubts if the listed points (like “Boosting tourism”) are appealing enough for them to let their data go (to a company who is not evil but based on selling targeted advertising).

Public API impact

A year ago or so, we added a Google Map to a website friends of me are running. The website is about reptiles and amphibians. In one part of the site users can enter details into a form, including the location, when they’ve seen an interesting species. In the meantime their database has grown to a comprehensive collection of (crowd sourced) information like species distribution among our country. It’s not only a hobbyist project, the database means quite a valuable input for species research and protection projects too.

Anyways, before we added a Google Map to the form, user provided location information was very poor. Only a rough location description or coordinate information based on the national topographical map were possible to enter. For national coordinates users had to go to another website, look up the place and copy and paste the coordinates from there back into the form. Definitely not what I would call a convenient solution.

Once we added Google Maps where users could simply pinpoint the location on a map, the collected data turned into something like this:

Herpetofauna Funde in Österreich

Green dots … located with Google Maps (92%)
Red dots … located with a service of our National Mapping Agency (8%)

That says something about the benefit of public available mapping APIs. Especially for projects like this, with no commercial but a strong public interest.

Ordnance Survey heads into a good direction by releasing OpenSpace. OpenSpace is a mapping API, based on public geodata and OpenLayers, the Open Source JavaScript library for mapping. OS is probably the most progressive European mapping agency, so there is hope that others will follow (once they have all fulfilled INSPIRE and are done with metadata updates). It took some time until maps showed up at public authorities’ websites, followed by interactive maps and nowadays you even find WMS here and there. The next evolutionary step is probably public geodata made available through APIs.

During the INSPIRE process it became pretty clear that European mapping agencies don’t favor free public geodata. The API concept could help here: it enables flexible usage of data for users while retaining full control over both, functionality and data, for the mapping agency. Seems like a workable compromise to me.