Wednesday, August 19, 2009

San Francisco Opens City's Data

San Francisco continues to be one of the most forward thinking cities on the planet, and (like him or not) Gavin Newsom is a HUGE factor in this. The city has opened its data via Newsom penned an intro letter for TechCrunch that contextualizes how he sees this new venture. I've pasted the letter below and linked the TechCrunch story here. Good stuff.

San Francisco has a long history of innovation. We are home to hundreds of technology companies that are changing the way the world operates from Twitter to WordPress to Kiva.

In an effort to engage our highly skilled workforce we are launching DataSF.org, an initiative designed to increase access to city data.

The new web site will provide a clearinghouse of structured, raw and machine-readable government data to the public in an easily downloadable format. For example, there will be updated crime incident data from the police department and restaurant inspection data from the Department of Public Health. The initial phase of the web site includes more than 100 datasets, from a range of city departments, including Police, Public Works, and the Municipal Transportation Agency.

We imagine creative developers taking apartment listings and city crime data and mashing it up to help renters find their next home or an iPhone application that shows restaurant ratings based on health code violations.

The idea behind the site is to open up San Francisco government and tap into the creative expertise of our greatest resource – our residents. We hope will create a torrent of innovation similar to when the developer community was given access to the platforms behind popular technologies and devices like Facebook and Apple’s iPhone.

Our effort to improve access to city data has already led to the creation of new services never imagined within the walls of government. Earlier this summer, our Department of Environment released recycling data that was used by a third party to develop EcoFinder, an iPhone application that helps residents recycle based on their location.

By bringing city data and communities together in one location, we hope to stimulate local industry, create jobs and highlight San Francisco’s creative culture and attractiveness as a place to live and work.

As we look to deepen and broaden citizen engagement we will face common challenges: resistance to change, political will, and sustaining data streams from government sources to name a few. Collaboration with citizens, non-profits, vendors, academia, and our peers in government will be critical to overcoming these barriers. It will also take leadership as we’ve seen from President Obama and his CIO, Vivek Kundra to establish our ideals and set forth a shared vision for a more transparent and open government.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Books as Decaying Media/Medium (As If We Didn't Already Know This)

A great piece in the New York Times, In a Digital Future, Textbooks Are History, details what most outside the humanities already know. That may seem like somewhat of a dig at the humanities (and I do believe that there are multi-medium digital humanists out there) but the last stand for the traditional format logocentrically-bound physical monograph seems to continue to be propagated by those mono-medium old school literature-ish professors often found in humanities departments. Oh, there's often collusion with the management of school bookstores too. At least that's been my experience at North Carolina's flagship institution, as well as at a few other spots along the way. My take is that it's a losing battle and I'd be worried about what relevance I'd have when the last salvos are placed. I guess there is always room to expand the teaching pool in Classics departments. And, important to note, it's not possible for curriculum to stricture students into affinity for traditional textbooks. Pretty soon, the students will choose to boycott such courses and spaces. We already see this in declining statistics for humanities majors and minors. The NY Times piece is a good profile of where students are "at" these days, especially en route to post-secondary education. I've pasted a telling blurb below.

Textbooks have not gone the way of the scroll yet, but many educators say that it will not be long before they are replaced by digital versions — or supplanted altogether by lessons assembled from the wealth of free courseware, educational games, videos and projects on the Web.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Google Book Project: A Contrarian Perspective

Google's mass digitization project, that is the Google Book Search Project, is often severely criticized by academics and librarians. The critiques typically run along the lines that it's a corporate initiative to make money and that the once-included librarian community is now on the outside looking in. I can see this critique. Sadly, it's standard critique from the left (of which I am a part) but it is the privileged left that make this critique. The progressives that want to (or are forced to) grapple and harness threads of opportunity in Google's hegemonic machinations have a different take. Last Wednesday, Howard University's School of Law hosted a forum that showcased some of these useful progressive perspectives on the Google Book Project.

My point is that Google's hegemony isn't strictly deterministic, nor is it monolithic. Ala Michel de Certeau, there are tactics to Google's strategies. Or, to invoke other revolutionary refrains, by any means necessary...using the master's tools to dismantle the house...etc. These adages are familiar and the point is that engagement with this hegemony is inevitable and necessary. It can even yield more socially just outcomes. The only untenable action that is truly stricturing and oppressive is the weak liberal (v. strong engaged liberal) lament made from privilege spaces (i.e., flagship research one schools) without any alternate path toward social justice (e.g., Google will give inner city kids in D.C. access whereas a local elite institution will not).

There are a few quotes below, some links, and a fantastic video of Rhea Ballard-Thrower (a must-view for librarians especially).

"The idea that a student in Boston at a very exclusive private school can read the same books that a student somewhere in an underfunded, urban public school, that they can have the same access to the same materials is actually just amazing," said Professor Rhea Ballard-Thrower, law librarian at the Howard law school. "Books are the great equaliser."

"This project is part of a larger effort to democratise knowledge," Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, said during a forum on the book settlement, hosted by the Howard law school. "To me, this project is so crucial because it helps to level the playing field at the most fundamental intersection of rights, knowledge and advocacy."