Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Set the data free! Mash it up!

Mashups are, in my opinion, a fantastic tool for allowing people to creatively use data to solve problems or create value.

For those unfamiliar with the term, it refers to situations where individuals or organisations combine (mashup) data from different sources, often in real-time across the internet to provide hybrid applications.

Some of the more interesting mashups I've seen have involved adding real-time public transport, job vacancies, photos, house sales or rental data from one or more websites to maps stored on another website.

Some of the better known mashups include:
  • Flickrvision - photos on maps,
  • Bikely - cycle routes around the world,
  • HousingMaps - drawn from Craig's List and Google maps to create a location-based view of properties for rent or sale,
  • Twittervision - tracking real time 'twitters' (mini blog posts) around the world - I find it a very zen experience to watch, and
  • WAPetrol - a mashup showing the cheapest places to buy petrol in WA.

There are plenty more listed at the Google Maps Mania blog.

The only recent example I've seen even nominally in the public arena within Australia was Google's Australian election mash-up last year. This was a world first, combining electorate information, news stories, video and Google maps into an interactive picture of Australian politics.

There's an introductory video to this mash-up at YouTube.

I expect we'll see an even more slick version for the US election this year.

The Bureau of Meteorology does makes its data available to third party websites for use in mashups. While I was at ActewAGL we used this data (with their permission) to provide weather information about the ACT - though it functioned more as a feed than a mashup.

We were also working towards creating internal mashups of our sales and customer details to gain a better picture of the demographic spread, effectiveness of location-based marketing and to give us another axis with which to develop customer insights. I do not know if this project has progressed since I left the organisation.

There's plenty of other private sector mashups emerging - some used for commercial purposes, such as the maps in, but the public sector is strangely silent.

I'd love to see the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) mashup some of its data, or make data available in a form usable in mashups. I'm sure it would stimulate some interesting uses which in turn might lead to new insights.

I've also been slowly moving my Agency towards using some of our publicly released data, together with Google maps, to provide a basic social picture of Australia. This is information is already provided in list form so it's an easy first step.

Unfortunately there's plenty of more important activities on our radar, so we're not there yet - though I did manage in my own time to create an electorate map of Australia and embed some of our public data within it.

Over in the US there's a lot more activity, dating back several years. The mid-2006 article Emerging eGovernment mashups provides an early look at some of the uses the US public sector is developing for mash-ups.

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