Open Data and Municipal Election Results

As local readers will know, I created an election results dashboard for the municipal election that took place in Edmonton on October 18, made possible thanks to the City of Edmonton’s open data. I’d say it was very well-received! There was lots of positive feedback, and it resulted in the highest-trafficked day ever for ShareEdmonton. There were also hundreds of tweets about the dashboard, including some from people in other cities.

I was able to update the dashboard on-the-fly that night, fixing the graph colors and other issues as they were identified. Overall I was pretty happy with how it turned out, though I wish I had been able to add a few more features in time for the big event. Over the last couple days, I decided to extract the dashboard from ShareEdmonton and I have now added that new functionality. Specifically, the page updates automatically (no more refreshing) and there’s a mobile view as well, so it looks decent on your mobile device.

New Dashboards

Today is election day in Ontario, and thanks to open data from Toronto, Ottawa, and London, I was able to launch three new election results dashboards, all featuring the latest improvements:

Some new issues have appeared that I didn’t have to worry about in the Edmonton election (for example, there are 40 candidates for mayor in Toronto, so having them all appear on the graph is difficult at best) but the sites all seem to be running smoothly. I guess we’ll find out at 8 PM EST tonight when the results start to come in!

Open Data

All of these dashboards were made possible because the cities made election results data available, so kudos to each of them for doing so. The tricky thing for a developer like me is that all four cities (Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa, and London) made the results available in a different format!

  • Edmonton – XML/JSON using OGDI
  • Toronto – plaintext, pipe-separated
  • Ottawa – plaintext, HTML scrape, kind of a pseudo-CSV
  • London – XML

Fortunately, when I had created the dashboard for Edmonton, I had built in a translation-layer. So instead of loading directly from the City’s catalogue into ShareEdmonton, I loaded it first into an internal format. So to get the dashboard working with the other cities, all I had to do was write that translation piece, from their catalogue to my internal format. As you can see, that strategy has worked fairly well (Ottawa was by far the most difficult, and did not provide me with enough information to calculate voter turnout, so that was removed from the ShareOttawa dashboard).

I’m not complaining about the need for this translation layer. I would much rather have a city make its data available than delay just to try to find a common format. But I do hope to see convergence over time. It would be great if these cities (and others that offer this data, like Vancouver) could agree on a common format. That would remove the extra work required to make an application reusable, and would hopefully result in even more applications that make use of the data.

And Beyond!

I’m pretty excited about the possibilities of open data, especially as it relates to politics and democracy. There are some really great apps being built, such as, and we’re really just scratching the surface. If we keep at it, I’m confident that open data will have a positive impact on the way we engage with politics.

Signs of home in London

It’s not exactly culture-shock visiting London for an Edmontonian such as myself, but you do notice differences. The elevators all talk, warnings to “mind the…” are everywhere (gap, elevator doors, etc), locals call the pound a quid, and the Coke bottles are oddly thin, among other things. I’ve also come across a few things that remind me of home.

One of the first things I picked up upon arriving in London was the pocket tube map. To my surprise, there was an Ikea advertisement on the back which included a list of locations:

London Tube Pocket Map

And here I thought Alberta was the only place with an IKEA Edmonton! Another thing I found, near Leicester Square, was a Canadian pub:

Maple Leaf Pub

The Maple Leaf is located at 41 Maiden Lane, and serves local and Canadian beer such as Sleeman’s. As I stood in the road taking the photo, a small group of people passed behind me and I heard a lady remark, “Why go to a Canadian pub when you can go to a British one?” I chuckled.

Finally, here’s another pub – this one is for Albertans!

The Northumberland Arms

The Northumberland Arms is located at 119 Tottenham Court Road. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, read this.


London Trip 2009: Halfway Done

I’ve been in London, UK since late Sunday evening. I had a good week in terms of work, and actually got to see and do some things around the city as well! The first time it rained was yesterday, which I figure is pretty good for London. Had to use the umbrella again this morning.

LondonBig Ben

On Tuesday evening, John (Questionmark’s founder & chairman) drove Jim and I around to see some of the sights (Jim was in for the week from North Carolina). It was actually a really interesting way to see the city, and I made some mental notes of things to revisit. The following evening Jim and I found a nearby pub for more beer, fish & chips.

A few of us went out for dinner on Thursday evening to Skylon, a restaurant located in the Royal Festival Hall. The food was excellent, though I suppose the service could have been a bit better. Afterward Jim, Chris and I ventured out to a couple of pubs, including Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, apparently the oldest pub in London!

HalibutLondon, UKMethane powered street lampOldest pub in LondonBoxingBoxing

Last night I joined Andrew and some other Questionmark colleagues at York Hall in Bethnal Green to watch boxing (Andrew’s brother was fighting). I had never been to a live boxing match before, so it was pretty neat to see. Oddly, there were dozens of girls “glammed up” – they stood out like a sore thumb. A local pub was up next, where I was introduced to Old Rosie (cider). It continued pouring as we rushed to catch the last train north!

This morning I went to the Borough Market, which was recommended by Stella and Sharon before I left. It was really impressive – in both size and contents. Unlike our markets back in Edmonton, or even the Eastern Market in DC, the Borough Market had almost no craft traders(I probably could have counted them on one hand). Everything was food – fruits and vegetables, breads, lots of cheese, meats, fish, candies, and more. I bought a few things, including a traditional Cumberland sausage sandwich for breakfast. Yum!

Borough MarketTraditional Cumberland SausageLeicester SquarePiccadilly CircusApple StoreMarks & Spencer

I spent the rest of the morning/afternoon walking around, first near the London Bridge, and later near Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus. The Apple Store near Oxford Circus was a nice place to stop for free wifi and a brief reprieve from the crowds (there are so many people everywhere, it’s awesome). After some more exploring I picked up some lunch from Marks & Spencer (at Sharon’s urging/request) and came back to the hotel for a bit.

Tonight I’m off to a party at Noel’s! Assuming I can find it, that is. You can see the rest of my photos here.

We're Not Afraid!

Post ImageVia Darren, I came across We’re Not Afraid. While I think the site is borderline profiting from the misery of others, the message is still good:

Show the world that we’re not afraid of what happened in London, and that the world is a better place without fear.

There are hundreds of user-submitted photos, many with people holding up signs proclaiming their lack of fear. If the site is slow, it’s because they have been getting a lot of press recently and as a result tons of traffic, so be patient. There’s also a “We’re not afraid!” group setup on Flickr.

Read: We’re Not Afraid

Terror in London

Post ImageBy now you’ve heard about the terrible bombings that rocked London earlier today. Instead of recount again what happened, I figured it would be more useful to share some of the interesting images, perspectives and links I have found.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and at times like this, it’s easy to see why. As you might expect, the most popular tags in Flickr for the last 24 hours are blasts, bombings, londonbombblasts, terrorism, and many others, all similar. Here are some of the pictures I found most interesting, scary, and real:

Obviously, there are lots of people blogging about the attacks too. Via Scoble, I came across memeorandum, a site that “presents an automated hourly synopsis of the latest online news and opinion, combining weblog commentary with traditional news reports.” Very interesting to read. The top searches in Technorati all have to do with the London attacks, and as a result they have setup a special site featuring posts and information related to the bombings. BoingBoing has an extensive post covering the attacks, with images and reader comments. Here’s a first-hand account:

A funny thing happened to me on the way to work this morning. My tube blew up. So forgive me if the following isn’t as witty, perspicacious, or just plain hilarious as my usual posts, but I just want to write down what happened as I remember it; partly to get my own head round it, and partly because I think it’s got the makings of an anecdote to rival the time I had sex twice once. So erm, yeah, try to bear with me through the boring bits – you’ll eventually get to a Hollywood-style explosion with a hint of post-apocalyptic fallout.

The BBC is featuring Reporters’ Log, written by their correspondents on the ground, as well as a “Have Your Say” page with tons of comment. WikiNews has some excellent coverage. Across the Atlantic is one of many blogs updating as the news happens.

I have tagged everything with london77 in delicious, and I’ll add new stuff there as I come across it.

Read: BBC News In Depth