Apps for Amsterdam

Posted: May 25th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Events, Policy | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Tonight the Apps for Amsterdam awards ceremony takes place and stage one of the Dutch open data trajectory will be completed.

Last year at the end of summer I helped Thijs Kleinpaste and Stefan de Bruijn co-author a proposal to sponsor open data within the municipality of Amsterdam. This proposal was accepted near unanimously by the commission in November (full write-up) and it started a roller coaster ride for open data in Amsterdam that is now starting to have far wider effects throughout the Netherlands.

Hack de Overheid (Hack the Government), the soon-to-be foundation I’m in the board of, partnered with the City of Amsterdam and Waag Society to realize the competition and a series of events. This series culminated for us in Hack de Overheid #3 an inspiring day and hackathon for over a hundred developers who built civic apps.

The completion of the contest tonight and the sometimes stunning applications —many of which display excellence in cartography and visualization— submitted to it mark another high point I am proud to be a part of.

What’s next?

But as I said this completes just the first stage of what is bound to be a long and tortuous road. As we speak there are local initiatives being formed to open up data in at least Enschede, Rotterdam, Utrecht, Eindhoven and the Hague. It will be interesting to see what comes out of that and if some of the smaller cities may in fact outpace us here in the capital.

But we need to do more. Recent questions about privacy violations in data releases make it more than a little obvious that there is a massive issue in data literacy. I wholeheartedly agree with Adam Greenfield if he says that data and its affordances need to be a core subject starting from school onwards. We need to explore materials, interventions and processes that allow us to teach data literacy and that allow others to teach it for us if we ever want to spread this knowledge at scale.

Literacy is required not only in school children but also in decision makers in business and government right now if we want to keep the momentum we have right now. Future developments run the risk of being hamstrung by backlashes against the malignant consequences of data or open data being unused because the ecosystem is not in tune. There are still lots of issues to be resolved around ownership, privacy, responsibility, licensing and business models.

From a commercial point of view, the sustainability of many of the applications in the contest is doubtful. Creating proof of concept apps for the data is a more than a good start, but it is by no means enough. The real need is for open but comprehensive systems where open data is a given. That data needs to be technically excellent and fully engrained in the fabric of our information society so that everybody can use it to enrich their app/site/discourse. Data owners and producers need to participate and be accountable for their data to accept feedback from the public both in the specific and in the general case. Such a system cannot be built or be static, but needs to be grown and evolve continuously. The only thing we can do is plant, nurture and weed.

So tonight will be fun, but let that not distract us from the massive amount of work still ahead. We are ready for it. Will you join us?