There isn’t that much there right now (a full list is available in their press release), but the fact that the city even acknowledges the use of this is a huge step forward, and means we should expect much more in the months to come.
The idea behind open data is that information be made publicly available in its purest form. Instead of charts or long reports, the actual spreadsheet tables or map files are posted online so that application developers can find new and interesting ways of presenting information for public consumption.
Now, this map doesn’t include highway projects that are done by the Ministère de Transport du Québec, or bridge projects under federal jurisdiction. But if those organizations had similar raw data available, a mashup of them together would be trivial. That information could then be used by GPS devices or trip planners to plan around construction sites. Or they could be used by radio station traffic reporters, or by investigative journalists, or by FTQ union thugs.
The best part is that the best use of this data might be something the people who put it online never even considered. The limits are not technological in nature, but merely the limits of the imaginations of thousands of computer geeks.
Another example: This XLS file of bike path counters. A few seconds in the spreadsheet and I find the busiest day for cyclists so far this year was Tuesday, June 21. And the top 25 days are all between May 30 and July 10. Without the raw data, I would have needed to wait for some bureaucrat to create an annual report, if they even bothered at all.
The STM should follow this example
One organization that I think could substantially benefit from an open data policy is the Société de transport de Montréal. Somewhere, it has a huge database of thousands of bus stops and schedules. It uses that data to feed its website, to give to Google Maps, and to create its printed schedules. But the data isn’t available directly to developers. So independent apps that help people know when the bus stops have to scrape the STM’s website for the information.
Giving the data away could help significantly in making these applications better, and in finding new ways of getting information to people that would encourage them to take public transit.
I look forward to seeing what data gets released through this website, and particularly how developers can take that data and do interesting and useful things with it.
If this kind of thing interests you, by the way, Montréal Ouvert is holding a hackathon on Nov. 19. Hopefully the city can put some more stuff online by then that can be played with there.
UPDATE: A congratulatory post from Montréal Ouvert, and more coverage from:
- The Gazette (and a blog post from data expert Roberto Rocha)
- Metro’s Mathias Marchal
- 24 Heures’s Mélanie Colleu
- La Presse’s Marie-Eve Morasse
And here’s Projet Montréal shitting all over it because it’s not transparent enough for their liking.