Jesse Brown: Toronto opens up

By Jesse Brown, CBC technology columnist:

Tweetin’ Toronto Mayor David Miller spoke and took questions at the Mesh Tech Conference in Toronto today. I was tapped to interview him and lead the Q & A. Mayor Miller used the opportunity to announce a new transparency-in-government website, toronto.ca/open. It’s set to launch this fall.

The idea, based on successful efforts in cities like Washington D.C., is to create a one-stop site aggregating all of the city’s public records. Rather than building their own apps to crunch and apply the numbers, the city will invite developers to mash them up however they want. Expect iPhone apps and Google Maps aplenty, tracking everything from carpool collectives to bike routes to building vacancies to construction zones. Much of the data will be live, with new info streaming in as it goes public.

But: how much data will we get and from which departments? How quickly will it go live? Will data be complete, or in summary form, thus thwarting many apps? Will it be compatible with apps written for other cities, like Washington?

These are the questions I will be asking of this effort, but I more or less eased off of them today. As a work-in-progress, toronto.ca/open deserves some room to breathe. It also deserves some positive attention, because :

  • This is legitimately awesome.
  • Public enthusiasm will be useful in convincing reticent parties to cough up their info.

There’ll be plenty of time for scrutiny once the site launches (my first likely complaint: the mayor hinted that the police department, an “arm’s length” institution, may not be participating). But for now - bravo!

Now let’s do it in every other city in Canada.