Open Data Ottawa

On April 24th I attended a hackfest at Ottawa’s City Hall organized by the Open Data Ottawa group. ‘Open Data’ is a growing movement to encourage governments of all levels to release public data in open and machine-readable formats which allow for reuse and development. A few examples of data that could be made available include trash and recycling schedules, transit information, arts and culture listings and geodata about borough boundaries or city parks. On an international scale, open data is used to support scientific research and the coordination of aid activities among other things.

Public access to this data allows for greater transparency and new forms of engagement between citizens and government. Developers are having a field day using this data to create mobile and web apps, re-using and mashing this data to create useful (or sometimes more amusing than useful) applications.

The Open Data Ottawa group has convinced the city of Ottawa to release datasets publicly, and soon they’ll be joining other Canadian cities like Toronto and Vancouver in making catalogues of data available publicly. To see some examples of the types of apps that can be built with open data check out the Open Data Ottawa website. The hackfest itself was part social event and part brainstorming session, and attracted a large crowd that included city councillors, developers, librarians, journalists and other interested citizenry.

While much of the focus of the open data movement is on the creating ‘purposeful’ apps that allow people to find stuff or get stuff done, there are many artistic projects emerging alongside that experiment with the new abundance of data. One such project underway in Ottawa is a collaboration between Daniel Beauchamp, one of the open data organizers, and Artengine to develop a series of midi files using transit information which will eventually be available for download so that any interested parties can use them to make their own art. The ‘dataset’ is an emerging unit of information that will likely become an important ingredient in social activities across the board including artistic practice, as the lines between art and information become further conflated in online environments.

Hopefully it will not be long before the Canadian federal government gets on board and realizes that future innovation is indeed about open, reusable data. In the meantime, a Canadian citizen-led open data portal can be found at the data dot website. Check out the links below to find out more about open data.

reblog: Corina MacDonald

Corina MacDonald is a member of the Board of Directors of Studio XX, a feminist art and technology centre, and a managing editor of the digital culture journal Vague Terrain. She also hosts a bi-weekly radio program, modular_systems, Sundays on CKUT 90.3 FM. You will find information about my music-related activities at

Open Data Ottawa

“The future is open”, Artengine blog post

Toronto’s data catalogue

Vancouver’s data catalogue

Data dot

US government open data portal

UK government open data portal

The Open Knowledge Foundation