Warning: This blog post is about technology. That means: it is way over my head, and maybe yours, too. But really, we’re 10 years into the 21st Century. Guess we gotta go techie sometimes.
I spent two days last week in Seattle at a conference called “Open Government 2.0.” The concept is that governments at all levels have all sorts of data and information that the public could use to participate in, influence and understand government. Beyond that, idealists in the room hope that technology might help create a whole new way of governing in the 21st Century.
The West Coast has many leaders in this effort. For city government trying to make data available, see Seattle's data port. Portland just launched an “apps contest” so local developers can help put city data to use. Check out their new iPhone app, which helped increase reports of graffiti from 10 to 228.. British Columbia officials are still excited about the success of their Facebook “You Gotta Be Here” campaign for the Olympics.
Like many conferences, the real value was in meeting and speaking with the people in attendance. Mukilteo City Councilwoman Jennifer Greggerson was there, and took Community Transit service to the event. See her Tweets about the conference (with link to her blog), here.
As is often the case, the lawyer in the room was a bit of a wet blanket – no offense to the very informative Ramsey Ramerman, Everett’s assistant city attorney. He pointed out that social media can create important public records and even public meeting issues that must be considered by governments and elected officials.
For those of you who know enough to be fans of One Bus Away – which provides access to King County Metro (and now Pierce Transit) bus information, you’ll be jealous to hear that I met the mastermind himself, Brian Ferris. Even though Community Transit doesn’t have real-time bus information (yet), he’d like us in the fold.
But everything is complicated when your data is not standardized. That was a big message of the conference, and one that drives home the value of Google Transit – not the application itself, but the fact that it uses standardized schedule data (General Transit Feed Specification) which can be reused in so many ways, by so many people. Michael Keating of the Open Planning Project is working to use GFTS data and open source programming to create an “open trip planner” for transit. Not surprisingly, one of his partners in that effort is the trailblazing Bibiana McHugh and Portland TriMet (which worked with Google to develop the GTFS).
I also talked to Linda Thielke of King County Metro. She seemed a little disappointed not to have any snow events this winter after Metro developed all sorts of new communication plans to improve on last year’s efforts. They have an “Eye on Your Metro Commute” blog to post peak-hour rider information. They also added an email/text alerts system similar to what we have had at Community Transit for almost three years.
My take-away from the conference is this: Technology is a powerful tool, but not an end in itself. Both are important to remember.