Postbureaucrat

Personal blogging by Steph Gray, founder of Helpful Digital and erstwhile bureaucrat

Open data on the cheap

Jimmy Leach, Head of Digital Diplomacy at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office blogged earlier about a quiet little project his team have rolled out, using extended RSS 2.0 feeds to provide access to the FCO’s travel advice data.

As he says, the key thing for publicly-funded organisations is to get the information out there, which is why the corporate platform, and even corporate social media channels, are just the beginning. RSS feeds are a tried-and-tested technique for ensuring content can reach a wider audience:

Anyone can follow the latest alerts and changes using our travel advice RSS feeds in a standard reader like Google Reader or Netvibes. But you can consider this a call to developers to use our feeds as they want, to make our data useful, to add relevant information, to create visualisations, mobile apps or map-based viewers, incorporating extra machine-readable data about locations, contact details, reviews, ticket booking, all sorts of information and services that you wouldn’t expect a government department to provide, and, hopefully, pulled together in clever and innovative ways that you wouldn’t expect from a civil servant.

The existing travel advice feed on the site contains the alerts, the advice, the news and the embassy details all rolled into one. It does the job. It’s useful and relevant but it is also blunt and we know there are ways we can do it better.

We have started the ball rolling by creating some test feeds containing additional custom elements, so that each element in the feed is generated from a single field from our database of travel advice.

Inspired by Matthew Somerville’s use of iUI to fake an iPhone look and feel to his Train Times application, I’ve put together a little demo of how the FCO’s new feeds might be repurposed, with a little app optimised for iPhones which takes the latest alerts, visualises them on a map, and enables you to get the phone number and opening times for an embassy if you need it. It’s a fairly silly little proof of concept, but hopefully it shows that RSS feeds don’t just have to live in newsreaders. And it’s what Andrea DiMaio has decreed.

The bigger point here is about open data and cost. Most enterprise CMSes can generate RSS feeds, and it’s a technology that almost all developers and webbies feel comfortable with. So without the cost and complexity of building and mantaining a full API to their database, a corporate public sector organisation has been able to support reuse in a quick and simple way. Jimmy has asked for thoughts from developers and others on how the feeds might be cleaned up and made more useful, so do give him your ideas.

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18 comments on “Open data on the cheap

  1. Open data on the cheap:

    Jimmy Leach, Head of Digital Engagement at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office blog… http://bit.ly/9LxxlD

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  2. Avatar davebriggs says:

    Open data on the cheap by @lesteph http://icio.us/khin2o

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  3. Riktigt bra, tack för tips @markmedia. Beskriver hur brittiska utrikesdepartementet (?) rullar ut lite upphottade RSS-flöden och ber om hjälp med hackandet. Och si, det är precis det som händer. ”the key thing for publicly-funded organisations is to get the information out there”Ännu ett bevis på att RSS-flöden inte bara hör hemma i Google Reader (eller ens i Reeder i iPhonen;). Inte för att jag tycker att vi ska nöja oss med RSS, men i fall som det här kan det vara alldeles tillräckligt – och ett otroligt enkelt sätt för myndigheten att komma igång. Många av de svenska hacken vi sett bygger ju på just RSS-hackande.BTW, tack vare den här texten hittade jag också http://blogs.gartner.com/andrea_dimaio/2010/07/14/should-governments-develop-iphone-apps/ Mycket bra!

    This comment was originally posted on FriendFeed

  4. Avatar lesteph says:

    A quick blog post about new @foreignoffice RSS feeds – Open Data on the cheap: http://via.leste.ph/bs1kj3

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  5. Avatar deeped says:

    *flinar* Min wavekommentar varken glömd eller nämnd alltså 🙂

    This comment was originally posted on jardenberg unedited

  6. Apropå Wave så tycker jag generellt att Google verkar har väldigt klent tålamod. Visst har de fimpat Nexus också? Den var inte på banan länge.

    This comment was originally posted on jardenberg unedited

  7. Nice Open data on the cheap from the excellent @lesteph http://bit.ly/d5LDnn

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  8. […] Open data on the cheap at Helpful Technology – "…without the cost and complexity of building and mantaining a full API to their database, a corporate public sector organisation has been able to support reuse in a quick and simple way." […]

  9. Twitter Comment

    bookmark this man, or man to man mark him?

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

    This comment was originally posted on DavePress

  10. Twitter Comment

    bookmark this man, or man to man mark him?

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

    This comment was originally posted on DavePress

  11. Twitter Comment

    I find this stuff so you don’t have to: [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

    This comment was originally posted on DavePress

  12. Twitter Comment

    I find this stuff so you don’t have to: [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

    This comment was originally posted on DavePress

  13. Twitter Comment

    RT @davebriggs Bookmarks for July 28th through August 5th [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

    This comment was originally posted on DavePress

  14. Twitter Comment

    RT @davebriggs Bookmarks for July 28th through August 5th [link to post]

    – Posted using Chat Catcher

    This comment was originally posted on DavePress

  15. Avatar LiberTIC says:

    via @davepress #Opendata on the cheap at Helpful Technology: http://bit.ly/9v0gtJ

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  16. Avatar aboutRSS says:

    Open data on the cheap at Helpful Technology: http://tinyurl.com/26m5cqy

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  17. Avatar jkonga says:

    Value of data offerings is key RT @LiberTIC: via @davepress #Opendata on the cheap at Helpful Technology: http://bit.ly/9v0gtJ

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  18. I read; “Open data on the cheap” http://icio.us/khin2o

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter