Blogging for America

Open Data Platforms and Local Wikis

I’m enthusiastic about two pieces of technology that I think are constructive for the civic web: open data platforms and local wikis. An open data platform is an online catalog and repository of data that is useful for both people and software programs. A local wiki is a wiki about a certain place, curated by the people of that place. The primary reason I think these are important is because each technology implements an architecture of participation and, furthermore, does so in a way in which ownership can exist at any level. Together, these mean that anyone can contribute and no one must decide a priori who owns what.

Open data platforms and local wikis are foundational elements, too, because they are the necessary containers into which we organize and populate data and information about civic life where it happens. When equipped with APIs, and not all open data platforms and local wikis are, these technologies also support a foundational requirement to move data and information into and out of containers in repeatable ways. That means the data can be reused by other software developers to make new things.

Another reason I think these technologies are important is because the Brigade community tells me they are. Moreover, they are telling by doing. As an outcome to Code Across America, Open San Diego launched an instance of Azavea’s Open Data Catalog and now there are 413 data sets about San Diego cataloged and published online where they are easy to discover. From that effort, an online forum was created to share experiences and get help. Now Open Lexington is preparing to launch. We’re making similar connections through Local Wiki. During Code Across, CityCamp Raleigh hosted a day long editing hackathon for Triangle Wiki, resulting in several hundred contributions. Following the event we formed a organizers forum, but truth be told the best stuff is on the original #localwiki IRC channel at freenode.net. Through the forum, we can share across cities ideas for curating. In San Francisco, local wiki curators raised the idea of biking days – get a group to spend a couple of hours biking through a favorite area, taking pictures and recordings then gather somewhere over beverages and laptops to make and update pages. But the key contribution of a local wiki, any wiki, is that it enables anyone to own a page about anything that matters where they live.

Going forward with Brigade, I think you will see a trend toward more coverage by open data platforms and local wikis. There are now three open data platforms listed at brigade.codeforamerica.org/applications and adoption is growing. Wikis are spreading too, as we see here in this latest introduction on the LocalWiki Organizers’ forum. I’d like to see that growth shift from organic to viral and we’re driving toward that tipping point with Brigade. Join us by deploying an open data platform or LocalWiki where you live.

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