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At the Canadian Open Data Experience event, 14 January 2015

Posted by Bob Jonkman on 18th January 2015

Open Data logo

Open Data

On Wednesday, 14 January 2015 I registered for the Canadian Open Data Experience event called “Economic Potential of Open Data”. Speakers were to be Tony Clement, President of the Treasury Board; James Moore, Minister of Industry; and Ray Sharma, creator of the Canadian Open Data Experience (CODE).

Before the presentations started Tony Clement was off in a side office, unavailable for networking, and he left immediately after his presentation. James Moore was not present at all. For an Open Data event that promotes Open Government, it was a bit disappointing not to have access to the government ministers responsible for openness.

Here are some of the notes I took during the speakers’ presentations. My comments are indicated (like this).

Tony Clement, President of the Treasury Board:
  • Tony Clement referred to January 2014’s CODE event as the “first Open Data hackathon” in Canada (yet Open Data Waterloo Region has been holding Open Data Hackathons and CodeFest events since 2011)
  • CODE hackathon had 900 participants, with the spotlight on the business value of Open Data
  • “Electric Sheep” was the winner of the hackathon
  • Tony Clement and James Moore are making this road trip to announce 20 — 22 February 2015 as the CODE2015 Hackathon
  • Dates intentionally chosen to coincide with the International Open Data Hackathon; hopes to have international coexistence
  • There will be cash prizes for the top three apps created during the CODE hackathon
  • Tony Clement gave some words of praise to the Canadian government, saying that Open Data allows Canada to “compete with the world”.
Ray Sharma, creator of Canadian Open Data Experience:
  • Weather and GPS are commercially successful applications of Open Data
  • National competition had 930 participants
  • Ray Sharma talked of the “power of the crowd”, mentioning Litebox, WordPress, Kickstarter and Goldcorp
  • The economic potential of Open Data is like an iceberg — most of it is below the surface
  • There will be three hubs participating in the CODE2015 hackathon: Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal
  • The 2nd Generation of apps will use Open Data and Private Data, e.g. Zillo
Lan Nguyen, Deputy CIO for City of Toronto:
  • Toronto Open Data started in 2009 (although I remember Toronto setting up a blank Open Data web page after the Smart Cities conference in 2006)
  • Open Data is part of Toronto’s Open Government
  • There’s a long list of Open Datasets — Petabytes!
  • Unexpected benefits: silos of ownership; “See, Click, Fix” received 3,000 requests!
  • Commercialization of Toronto Open Data
  • Availability of budget and Council data
  • Transparent, engage citizens
  • Able to understand the outcome of Open Data
  • Liability, risk?
  • Open Data is available to everyone; it is Social Justice
  • Crowd sourcing: Encourage commercialization; partner with educational institutions
  • Next plan: Open Dashboard — reports from different stakeholders
  • Open Data is a powerful driver for Open Government
Devin Tu, founder of Map Your Property:
  • Idea for Map Your Property came from the fact that California has a single portal for geodata
  • MYP aggregates multiple datasets
  • Reports are made available in Microsoft .docx format and maps are exported as .pdf files (Oh great, Open Data in proprietary, non-consumable formats)
  • Benefits of Open Data: Entrepreneurs go to those places where there is Open Data
  • It is expensive to do business in places that don’t have Open Data!
Ryan Doherty, co-founder of
  • Goal of Reduce Emergency Room wait times
  • Integrated datasets? (speaking with Ryan Doherty after the presentation, I learned that much data was collected manually)
  • User tracking provides estimated wait times (are users aware their use of is being tracked? What information on users is retained? This could be a privacy leak nightmare waiting to happen. Speaking with Ryan Doherty afterwards, he assured me there was no medical information about users collected)
  • Improving business — efficiency in care delivery was apparent later

I found the focus on business interests and the competitive aspects of the CODE2015 hackathon a bit disconcerting. A cynic would say business is using $40,000 prize money in a competition as cheap bait to attract programmers to work for 24 hours straight. At 900 participants, that works out to paying only about $2.00/hour per programmer. And only four teams split the prize money, so most programmers go completely unpaid.

Still, CODE2015 only has three competitive hackathons on a weekend where the International Open Data Day holds hundreds of cooperative hackathons.

I hope OpenDataWR holds an event this year — the ones in 2013 and 2014 were fun, productive for some, and educational for all.

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