Getting Involved with CivicApps

In addition to the economic planning activities I talked about in my previous post, there’s another area where local government is trying to engage with software developers, open source ones in particular. That’s through the CivicApps project. I’ve talked about it before, in bits and pieces, but with two big events coming up, this is a good time to look over what’s happening.

CivicApps is a local government initiative to connect open source developers with public data, and encourage the development of new tools that can help everyone. It’s led by the City of Portland, but data providers include the city, Metro, and other nearby municipalities and bureaus. There are two main ways people can contribute to the project: by submitting an idea (for something that could be built), or creating an app (open source software). They will be awarding prizes to the best ideas and apps contributed, as well. The deadline for the ideas contest is coming up soon, on May 31st.

There are two big events happening in the next two weeks. The first one is a CivicApps Ideas meeting on May 27th. You should go to this to find out more about the data sets available and what sorts of projects people are interested in working on, using that data. The second event is a CiviCode Day on June 3rd, co-located with Open Source Bridge. You should go to this if you’re interested on working on a CivicApps project, and meeting other people who are doing the same.

If you’ve been skimming because you’ve heard those other parts before, here’s what’s new:

When we had the unofficial CivicApps meetup a couple of weeks ago, I passed our notes back to the project manager, Rick Nixon. Here’s what he had to say: Some of our requests for improved metadata are already underway. They’re also working on a way for people to see a demo map or visual preview of data, so people without GIS software can see what’s going on. We asked about schedule data, but the items we wanted aren’t currently available in a usable format. Some of that (like recycling schedules) may be available later this year, though.

I also asked Rick what sorts of participation CivicApps most needs right now. He emphasized that they want as many people as possible to read through the datasets, ideas, and apps, and leave comments and vote on them. They need your feedback to know what’s interesting and feasible to us. You do need to sign in to comment or vote, but you can use OpenID, Twitter, or Facebook to do it, so you don’t have to create another account.

The city is also looking for feedback on a project idea they submitted, which they’re calling pdxtags:

Create a community driven database of (hash) tags that can be added to content and messaging. Allow tags to be tied to user created geographic overlays (boundaries on a map). And, most importantly, encourage whole communities to use the tags whenever creating content for those they hope to target locally or extend their reach to others.

If this sounds interesting to you (or you have suggestions or criticisms, for that matter), go leave a comment.

To recap:
CivicApps is a neat project that connects open source developers with local government data to use in their projects. You should go poke around on the site to get started. Then, come to one of the upcoming events to ask questions, share your project, and see what everyone else is up to. Win!

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