A community platform for Open Data

Overall goals for *.opendata.ch as I understand them :
  • Be the place to go to discover & participate in open data activities in Switzerland
  • Catalogue available data sources, especially to highlight transparency & gaps in government
  • Bring the data we are using, projects we are developing, people we are following, into one place
Some concrete problems we should address:
  • Event registration
    • lack of ability to follow up and connect participants with information and networking
    • pretty much non-existent or roll-your-own overview/measurement/analysis
    • a process that does not guide or inspire visitors, even problematic for some
    • no clear notifications or status/location-update options
    • constantly fail to update the event pages after an event (should be automatic)
    • lots of scrolling, bad accessibility (low contrast), mobile unfriendly site
    • just not representative of a cool, techy public event
  • Discussions & social media
    • conversations are sporadic and relatively short
    • people wait for days to get answers to their questions, nobody “on duty”
    • separate profile adds to the confusion around personal pages
    • one long discussion forum makes it hard to find and manage topics
    • if issues are discussed, the solutions are rarely documented
    • @OpenDataCH is mostly a news channel, engaging irregularly with the audience
    • #makeopendata and #opendatach not regularly Storifyfied or otherwise reused
  • Resources & Documentation
    • not very well organized, things are hard to find, ugly home page
    • data sources and tools (key areas) are thrown together without much structure or explanation
    • most of the really key information on Swiss open data (e.g. legal issues) not captured anywhere
    • no channelling of resources for different audiences, beginners/advanced, developer/designer
    • only external links, no integration with CKAN, no explanation – just not very helpful to people looking for data
    • lots of passive outside, few “active” and internal links to resources and related wikis like OKFN
    • few people are involved in maintaining and expanding the content, learning curve plus lack of motivation
    • the wiki engine is not user friendly, not very scalable, tricky to administer
    • not a foolproof setup – if people trample over content, likely that nobody will notice
    • nobody checks regularly to see if updates or fixes are needed, not clear who “owns” it
    • the mission of the wiki (to be a knowledge base for the community) is not defined
  • Profiles
    • just a basic wiki page, which only a handful of people have filled out
    • need the ability to search people by skill or interest or project or activity
    • should be possible to contact people/groups more easily, if they wish
    • you should be able to see which hackathons a person has/will attend
    • want to see where/what the community is, but we lack data for infographics
    • few ways to personalize the page to make it more useful to you or your team
    • would be nice to give people badges or other virtual rewards
  • Projects
    • if people do their knowledge base elsewhere, like GitHub, we don’t clarify what function a page on make serves
    • the template does not do much to guide participants through the early stages of a project
    • many teams don’t like the template at all and delete it, potentially losing some key info-fields
    • impossible to tell how active / complete / what gaps a project has, the info is rarely shared
    • can’t easily contact the project team, or leave a public comment or rating
    • does not help to uphold the open source spirit of try it..like it..fork it
    • dependencies and connections around data sources are not highlighted
    • we don’t guide people enough towards good places to host, advertise their project
    • project page design doesn’t look good, just fails to represent the productions well
    • project directory is ugly and nearly useless
Ouch. OK, so enough with the self-criticism, how about some solutions… How can we turn all the negatives into positives, e.g. make the project directory beautiful and very useful?
  • Event registration
    • reconsider Eventbrite or Lanyrd or Attendly ..+ APIs to harvest data into our own app
    • ..or research open source apps/modules for our needs
    • ..or code our own (maybe techup.ch has ideas? a registration wizard is 1 weekend’s effort)
    • make good metrics and follow-up tools requirements of whatever method we use
    • design a event page that make sense in one screenful – and links! lots of them
    • integrate with MailChimp or some other tool to keep track of mailings
    • make sure that notifications and follow up emails work well and are fun to read, design the templates
    • people should be able to let us know when they cancel or change location right on the site
    • constantly fail to update the event pages after an event (should be automatic)
    • add a calendar, on which we put in related events (other countries etc)
    • put in place a high accessibility standard, develop a mobile web
    • link to previous events, photos or impressions on the event page
    • it should be interesting to visit the event page while the event is running
    • put up Twitter wall, schedule, latest info up there continuously
    • encourage people to share their registration over social networks
    • “bring a friend” and other appeals to raise participation counts
    • encourage people to host mini-events, share the format best practices
    • have a check list for what needs to be published before/during/after events
    • aim to get all visitors excited about the next hackathon
  • Discussion forums/ social media
    • look for other forum software if necessary, e.g. PhpBB, Movable Type
    • ..consider simplifying our platform by using Google Groups in the cloud, or wiki pages on Confluence to hold discussions
    • ..consider OSQA, but try not to exclude any non-developers who expect more traditional setup
    • engage with each other and others on the forum, not closed mailing lists
    • assign volunteers to the forum, rotate every week, set up alerts, etc.
    • unify the profile so that clicking on a participant always lands on the same page
    • come up with a structure for the community which is reflected in the wiki and forum
    • really encourage people to capture bits of knowledge in the wiki
    • create a form for Ideators to propose projects, potentially capturing lots of detail
    • run bi-weekly events, such as polls, organize calls to action, like assisting a project
    • run a few more Twitter accounts, like @OpenDataActivistCH @OpenDataDevCH with less news, more response
    • Storify #makeopendata and #opendatach after events, keep them alive in between
    • aggregate blogs based on tags from known Swiss open data bloggers
    • run a forum thread for each opendata.ch blog post to discuss with the community
    • consider podcasts and other avenues to spreading the word, recruit helpers on forums
    • if we’re going to be cool and use IRC, let’s use it, if not, then let’s stop suggesting it
  • Resources/ documentation
    • I don’t see an easier way of collaborating with our community on high quality resources than a carefully managed wiki
    • let’s consider more professional wiki software, i.e. Confluence with open source license, and migrate from Doku
    • reorganize the content, brainstorm key areas, move stuff around until it makes sense, improve sitemap and search
    • this does not take much time and should be an ongoing process, just like moderation or support
    • get some inspiration from wikis at CKAN http://wiki.ckan.org and Rennselaer http://data-gov.tw.rpi.edu/wiki
    • consider joining forces with another OKFN chapter, and conversely, splitting off responsibility for different areas
    • CH data sources and tools (key areas) should get the most attention as they are what most people will come for
    • use CKAN’s APIs as the source, wrap each data set with discussion and documentation
    • focus on capturing some missing information on Swiss open data (e.g. legal issues), create a longer term plan
    • involve people who enjoy doing this kind of thing like journalists and bloggers
    • highlight resources for different audiences with beginners/advanced, developer/designer sections
    • tutorials to get people started at hackathons or on their own would be really beneficial
    • add more “active” links (feeds, deeper links, explanations) to resources and related wikis like OKFN
    • make sure the new wiki scales well, is easy to administer and upgrade, and works fast
    • keep an eye on new updates through the Dashboard – have a few people sign up to the firehose
    • define the mission of the wiki (to be a knowledge base for the community, …)
  • Project pages
    • this is a key area of improvement and needs development work in my opinion
    • the project page is a record of the steps taken, a meeting place slash braindump for the team, an ideal place to discover new and upcoming Swiss open data projects
    • continue to encourage everyone to have a GitHub page or equivalent, which could be drafted on the wiki
    • aim to have a beautiful directory like ohloh (could also be leveraged?)
    • continue to encourage this as the first thing people create at a hackathon
    • serve both as the scrapbook of notes and public face of project, perhaps with subpages for bigger projects, or projects grouped by theme (e.g. Transport API)
    • a really important element of the project pages is super simple project management – there is little time to waste at hackathons
    • however, after the hackathon projects tend to shut up and die – use the GitHub org, or a project management tool like Redmine to keep them bubbling longer
    • make sure the template does more to guide participants through the early stages of a project
    • for instance, include steps in a recommended project plan, make it more interactive, etc.
    • get feedback from the community on how the project page should look like
    • active / complete / gaps data would be useful, as would other metas
    • it should be possible to contact the project team in one place, they opt-out individually
    • leave public comments and ratings (likes, etc.) on each project page
    • project resources should be forkable and all projects remixable
    • review our stance on GitHub, how we promote and leverage it, use widgets and APIs
    • more practical information on the wiki for project teams: where to host, etc.
    • highlight dependencies and connections on open data sources
    • rethink the page design to make it attractive – perhaps separate area for live/star projects
    • turn the project directory into a gallery and search engine
    • very important that if people are looking to ‘use’ open data, that they are guided to live apps where possible, a suggestion box where not
    • post news about what’s happening on projects and themes onto the blog/list/forum
  • Participant profile
    • I still think this is useful and may warrant a bit of custom development
    • ..one option would be to encourage everyone to have a GitHub or CKAN account
    • ..or Drupal and WordPress have excellent social modules to make this easy
    • we don’t need to replace the functionality offered by other personal profiles, e.g. Twitter
    • but we should capture and display all the things we want to know about our participants (like we kind of did for Bern’s registration)
    • of course as long as participants want to us to know and share
    • give people badges to represent their involvement in the community, special roles, etc.
    • registering or checking into a hackathon should leave a mark on the profile, so you can see who’s been where
    • make sure you can search and filter people by skill or interest or project or activity
    • add optional contact forms to be shown on the profile
    • use profile data to create a map and charts about participants
    • this is also a bit of motivation to complete the profile and put yourself on the map
    • personalizing the page with widgets like my projects, latest activity, embedding, will make profiles more useful and interesting
Proposed Architecture for make.opendata.ch 2.0
(made with creately)
I agree that the current make. subdomain ought to be completely refactored, and suggest:
  • get a polished, up-to-date, secure CKAN instance on ckan.opendata.ch – seed it well, seed it deep, get a working group together to reach out and educate data owners as at least Antoine and I have been doing
  • archive the DokuWiki and move the content to a Confluence (Java/cloud based)wiki.opendata.ch – create the roots of a valuable knowledge base empowering our community
  • move the Vanilla-powered discussions to Confluence – engage with our participants, stop worrying so much about the “right” message – just communicate and share knowledge
  • organise an effort to brainstorm and develop a better project template/gallery – close links into CKAN, GitHub, EU data portal, datahub.io, etc. across the site
  • stop editing HTML by hand like it’s 1999 and use a CMS like Semantic Drupal (demo) or extend the WordPress we use for the blog to include event information pages, sign-on, registration, private/public profiles on make.opendata.ch – note that there are a good cloud services, but I think running an open source CMS with the ability to develop our own plugins is a key element to work towards the open data platform 3.0 where everything becomes more closely integrated and accessible
  • commit to openness: publish what we are doing, be meta about the project, practice what we preach
Completely open to discussion.
A point of reference
The EU PSI Portal runs along similar lines – their setup since 2010 is:
  1. data registry in CKAN
  2. Drupal CMS for the frontend for events etc.
  3. SOLR search engine
  4. Talis linked data (semantic web) store and service
  5. Blogs as articles copied into Drupal
  6. Used to run wikis (MediaWiki, I think), but closed them – now there is only ‘curated’ information
  7. They used to run forums, now just mailing list + contact form + Twitter
Random questions
  • Has anyone received interesting lessons from people who’ve “been there, done that” in launching unofficial open data portals around the world? I want to talk to datadotgc.ca and there are many many others – we should look at what they’re doing and avoid reinventing the wheel.
  • How centralized do we really want to run all this infrastructure? The issue of translation, maintenance, focus will continue to be somewhat of a drag factor. I think it would make no sense to split into French and German sub-sites, but what if? Should I stop writing anything in English, muddying the situation even more?
  • What happened to Microsoft and their Open Gov Data Initiative? Is anyone using Azure?
Creative Commons Licence
The works on this blog are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.