Data, Mashups and APIs

Last night I went along to the Data, Mashups and APIs event organised by Birmingham Social Media Cafe at Fazeley Studios.


­Kicking off the event was Dave Harte from Digital Birmingham, which is "a city-wide partnership designed to encourage people, business and communities to gain the benefits of digital technologies". The main focus of Dave's talk was to discuss the work Digital Birmingham have been doing to free up government data. An example given was how somebody made a freedom of information request for the locations of all parking fines in Birmingham, which may result in a "where not to park" mash-up. There is so much data that local authorities are sitting on, and hopefully with the introduction of the MyJadu API we may see some of the data opened up. Dave kindly put up the slides to his talk, th­ey are embedded below:

Next up was Michael Brunton-Spal, an engineer at The Guardian (who also sponsored the event) who talked to us about their open platform. It seems The Guardian have always been freeing up data, with their first online presence not having news, but rather useful data like school league tables. This has continued with the open platform, including both a Content API and Data Store.

The Content API (currently in private beta) is an exciting service that opens up the vast amount of content that The Guardian has been published over the last ten years. The data is available as XML or JSON, can be searched, filtered and both the full article body and various pieces of meta-data are available. Best of all, it's free!

The Data Store is described best on The Guardian's website as "facts you can use". Four data journalists seek out/collate interesting data, I presume mostly to supplement articles but they also make it publicly available to be mashed up in interesting ways via the Data Store. The data is made available as spreadsheets on Google Doc's, which is an great way of lowering the barrier to entry. Some recent additions to the Data Store were "Taser use where you live", and "UFO sightings: the Will Smith effect examined", a data set showing the correlation between the number of UFO sightings and certain Sci-Fi movie releases/TV debuts. There is of course also some more serious data released like UK inflation rates and the number of British military personal deaths. There have been some great visualisations of this data, which can be found in The Guardian's Flickr pool.

Michael skipped a lot of slides as his original presentation was geared towards a technical audience, which last night was not. Still a very enjoyable talk none the less.

Documentally did an interview with Michael and posted the audio online:

Matthew Somerville was next talking about the various interesting things he (and his colleagues at mySociety) have been doing with data they can get their hands on through any means necessary. To name a few, FixMyStreet, TheyWorkForYou, WhatDoTheyKnow, and the list goes on.

The first project Matthew spoke about was ScenicOrNot, which is basically Hot or Not for Great Britain locations. This alone was a fantastic idea, however MySociety in collaboration with Stamen and Channel4 created Mapumental a mashup of three data-sets, public transport journeys, house prices and how scenic a location is. You enter your postcode, set the maximum journey time, select the average house price and how scenic the area is and it displays a map of which areas you could live in and get to your place of work in the given time period. Random yet useful, and it's a beautiful mash-up! It's currently in private beta as there is a lot of calculation involved in generating the map, but hopefully we'll be able to play with the pretty maps soon. See the preview video below:

Documentally also interviewed Matthew and posted the audio online:

Matthew then spoke about TheyWorkForYou, which scrapes Hansard (the parliamentary record) for useful information about what MP's have been talking about, voting on, etc. in the house of commons. The data is presented on TheyWorkForYou in a much better way then Hansard, giving detailed overviews of what your MP has been up to. For example, see the entry for my MP. An interesting fact about the site is that it discovered that one MP who had recently died somehow still managed to vote in two divisions.

Another mash-up Matthew created was a UK postbox locator, which came around because of a freedom for information request for the locations of all the postboxes in the UK. However the Royal Mail decided to provide some not so useful data, so Matthew decided to crowd-source it. There are currently over 20,000 postboxes listed on the site.

Lastly Paul Bradshaw spoke briefly about his site Help Me Investigate, a "place where you can collaborate with other people to investigate things". It seems like a great project and along with mySociety's WhatDoTheyKnow, a great way to free some of the data the government is sat on.

Listened to some great talks, met some interesting people and I felt inspired afterwards to create something useful with all the data that is being made available. My thanks go out to the organisers and speakers for such an enjoyable evening.

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There is one response to “Data, Mashups and APIs”

  1. Karl Craig-West Says:

    You might also want to try the web 2.0 surgery in Nottingham:


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