At the inaugural APPNation conference last Monday, Mayor Newsom announced a new open data legislation dubbed “OpenGov” requiring city departments to make “all non-confidential datasets (under their authority) available under DataSF.org.”
As commuters may remember, a little over a year ago, Routesy, an iPhone MUNI “realtime arrivals” app, was disabled due to NextBus’ claim to ownership of arrival times data. To many, trying to catch the right bus — on time — went back to the old days of serendipity and uncertainty, prompting the occasional awkward late night chats with anonymous operators on 511. Months after this debacle, Newsom sat down with Steve Peterson, the creator of Routesy, Matt Mullenweg (WordPress), Tim O’Reilly and others to flesh out the details behind open sourcing the city’s public data repositories.
And it worked — Routesy is fully functional now, as are many other apps that are driven by data made public by similar city departments — such as SpotCrime (crime aggregator), Mom Maps (park and playground finder), and many others, featured on the Innovations Showcase.
To a Moscone auditorium full of startup investors and app developers, Newsom also openly explained the economic benefit open data can be to the city, lauding app developers as capable of creating, “Stuff that we could never imagine – and by gosh, god forbid – would take us a year or two, to go through a procurement process, you’d have to do an RFI, an RFQ, an RFP… and then by the time we get it out there, we ran out of money ‘cause we had a big budget deficit and nothing ever happened. You, however, have taken information and – in real time – put applications down that exists days, in some cases – hours – after we put the data – you had apps out there – days, weeks, and months, and the costs to tax payers is zero.”
Such versatility and dexterity defines the apps movement — anyone can create an app, and it can go live, validated and public, in a matter of days. It’s lightweight, it’s quick — and, compared to what you’d pay a team of convoluted staff a year and a day to create, it’s cheap. This is in stark contrast to what a large chip-creator like Intel has to do, the necessity of networking with many manufacturers, who may each have their own agenda, politics amuck, the months and millions that pass between creation and (finally!) deployment to enduser. The latter seems reminiscent of the policy traffic jam in the incumbent public sector, which Newsom alluded to.
Intel is also putting bids on the app market by creating one exclusive to Intel Atom netbooks, as announced in another keynote this week. But for now, San Franciscans have access to all the data in their city, and app creators can make anything out of it.
Newsom closed his APPNation keynote summarizing his vision, and its full circle value back to the people, “Transparency, accountability, efficiency, real time information, in the hands of the people that deserve it the most – the tax payers themselves.”