June 5, 2008

Government: less Web pages; more Web services

Filed under: Government, Missouri Mapping Project, social networking — kirk @ 8:40 am

Check out the recent article on ars technica. It discusses a new paper from researchers at Princeton University. David Robinson, Harlan Yu, William Zeller, and Ed Felten, all of Princeton’s Information Technology Policy Center, suggest that government officials focus less (much less) on developing usable web sites, and instead focus (much more) on providing raw public data such as regulatory decisions.


A number of reasons. The public sector has many developers and resources to develop innovative Web sites. While a government committee may spend weeks debating on what color icons to put on Web page, an individual can build a googlemap everyone can use in an evening. But individuals can only do this if they have access to the data.

We already know that good Web development means splitting out presentation, business logic and data access. We build applications that call Web services to access data. Then we post that information in xhtml pages that are styled with CSS. Why not build the Web services so they are exposed to the public? Then, anyone can access them.

‘Wait!’ You may say. ‘Our Web services are behind a firewall. We don’t want to punch a hole in our firewall.’ Fair enough..and you don’t have to. Consider this:

Many of us want to use AJAX in our Web pages. These AJAX pages must sit on a public accessible server (or else the public can’t get to them). AJAX pages require javascript to grab data for dynamic updates. Javascript cannot make calls to data services that are not on the same server as the javascript. This means that if you want AJAX in your application, you’ll need to have some sort of public Web service. In MDC development, we’re calling it a ‘proxy service’ (following the lead of Jeremy Keith of ‘Bulletproof AJAX‘ fame). This proxy service is a public accessible application that turns around and calls your real Web service that is behind the firewall. If you want to use AJAX for the public, this is how you’ll have to do it.

But if you’re doing this, anyone in the public can call that same application (because it’s on the public facing server). Poof! You’ve got a public facing Web service.

In short, building public facing Web services is something you’ll have to do to build AJAX pages. So why not develop a strategy now for figuring out how to make your data available to the public?

And why stop there? Why not have Missouri government foster an environment that encourages the public to access and mashup our data? I mean, what good is public facing data if no one knows it’s there?

In the United Kingdom, a non-profit group has joined forces with government to create the Ideal Government prize competition. To win the prize, individuals or groups in the public hacked government data with a free online map, and sent a short description and a link to Ideal Government contest. Entrants showed what’s possible in terms of locating public-sector data (schools, crimes, hazardous waste dumps, high-spending councils, whatever) on maps as easy to use as Google. All this was done by simply having government release access to its data. This group is even going further by actively engaging the public in government with
Missouri could encourage such use of it’s data if it simply listed all agency data feeds. In fact, if Missouri government knew of all its existing data feeds, we could probably improve our own state and agency Web sites (by accessing feeds of other agencies). For more on this idea, see my posts on the Missouri Mapping Project.

In the next fiscal year, our development team here at MDC are going to be piloting these sorts of public Web services to expose information on our public conservation areas, job openings, area regulations, and available publications (we’re already releasing RSS feeds of our news in coordination with several other state agencies to present news on the Missouri state portal.)

For all this to work, then government needs to do the following:

  1. Build public facing Web services
  2. Make the URL to these services a permalink (i.e., a URL that will never change)
  3. Make the public aware of this service (and encourage it)

So…how can we make this happen in Missouri?
As a final note, see what Utah government is already doing in this area by checking out David Fletcher’s blog.

April 24, 2008

MAGIC (GIS) conference today April 24th

Filed under: Government, Collaboration, Missouri Mapping Project — kirk @ 8:35 am

Today I’m helping Mark Brunner of the Missouri Department of Conservation do a workshop on using Google maps at the MAGIC 2008 Symposium.

Here are some links I’m going to use during the presentation. Feel free to follow along :-)

A place we’ve all been to, but did you realize you can pull kmz or georss feeds into it? Go there and type in the following kmz or georss urls.

    (from the postings related to wildlife disease issues)
  • (georss from my blog)
  • /feeds/geo/?id=8753840@N06&lang=en-us&format=rss_200
    (a rather lame photo album of mine on Flickr…pulled via georss feed from Flickr)
    (by the way, get rid of the space after ’services’ when copying and pasting..had to do that to get the link to fit across two lines)

My links on cool Google map apps. and developer links on my account.

So where am I presenting? See the link below.

Show on map

April 21, 2008

Social media and accessibility

Filed under: Uncategorized, Government, accessibility, social networking — kirk @ 9:49 am

The Power Up conference logoYes, I’m back after a long spell away from the blog. Today I and Joshua Bullock are polishing off a presentation we’re going to be doing at the Power Up 2008 conference and expo: A conference on Missouri assistive technology.

I will be presenting on why organizations should even be interested in social media. I’ve pulled out the old presentation I did back in June 0f 2007 and realize just how far everything has come in the past year. I’ve changed many references about how people may be using social media to definite statements (e.g., your employees are using social media now)

Joshua Bullock is a great Web designer I work with at the Missouri Dept. of Conservation. He’s one of the best Web designers I’ve worked with when it comes to CSS, XHTML and all things related.

Joshua is going to be covering the accessibility side of things when it comes to using social media tools like Wordpress, and Drupal. He’s come across an interesting observation. While these new Web 2.0 tools are great at presenting XHTML strict and 508 compliant pages to the people who read the pages these tools produce, they aren’t as great when it comes to compliant backend pages. Josh has more on his blog.

The conclusion? I’m thinking here again we have a situation where developers are so busy thinking of how the public uses their tools that they forget that employees or internal content developers may also need assistive technology.

Look for another post on the presentation as well as links relevant to the presentation.

Show on map

January 31, 2008

Blogging and getting the public involved in nature

Filed under: Government, blogging — kirk @ 1:03 pm

David Thorne from the Missouri Dept. of Conservation gave a great talk using social media to reach the public. You can read more about his presentation on his site. More on his presentation later.

Show on map

September 28, 2007

GIS shapefiles to KML and GeoRSS

Filed under: Government, Geotagging, Missouri Mapping Project — kirk @ 3:25 pm

I’ve been busy preparing for the Google maps / GeoRSS workshop at the Organization of Fish and Wildlife Information Managers (OFWIM) conference this past week.

All the stuff we did there you can find at the site.

There are a few tools we used at the workshop that might interest some of you wanting to use Google maps as a cheap way to provide maps to your areas (especially if your areas are for outdoor recreation).

One is a tool that will take shapefile data from GIS and provide you with both a KML and GeoRSS file as output. While the latest ESRI product now will export KML files, this tool still has merit since it provides you both with some options and a look under the hood at the conversion process.

Another item is a web page that allows you to input Google map code and execute it on the page. This served as a great tool during the tutorial on how to build Google maps.

Whether you’re involved in getting outdoor recreational activities on the map for the public or just the location of your government offices, take a moment to visit and grab some code (or supply feedback or ideas).

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August 22, 2007

Further progress on outdoor recreation spots in Google maps

Filed under: Government, Geotagging, Missouri Mapping Project — kirk @ 8:32 pm

At this point, the work on now includes the following:

  1. Information on how to mark up your areas in the recmap xml
  2. A javascript you can deploy on your own site that will read your xml file and produce a Google map with tabbed windows.
  3. Information on how to validate your xml file

I’m rather pleased with the javascript since it automatically resolves your correct domain (used when the javascript attempts to get your xml file) and it also successfully deals with IE and all other normal browsers when it comes to working with multiple namespaces in an xml document.

The next steps will be to complete the aggregator on the site. When this is complete, the site will able to periodically query the recmap xml files on community sites and pull their recreational opportunities into one central database.

While this project is geared toward Missouri outdoor recreational opportunities, the tools being developed can be used anywhere.

As always, I’m looking for any input or feedback. What do you think will make this project work better?

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August 13, 2007

Missouri IT recruitment looking at Second Life

Filed under: Government, Second Life — kirk @ 10:17 pm

Some of the folks involved in Missouri IT recruitment are exploring whether Second Life might be able to reach prospective employees.view of Missouri IT area in Second Life

I’ve been working with them to design some information kiosks and such. (well, actually, I guess it’s been my Second Life alter ego, Marcus Variscan).
Second Life is a virtual world that has a simple but very cool and flexible scripting language built into it. You can build and code some pretty complex 3d effects with relative ease.

You have to have the client (which is free) and an account (also free) to get into Second Life. Here is a link to where the Missouri IT job fair is being built.

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August 9, 2007 a site for recreational mapping in Missouri

Filed under: Government, Geotagging — kirk @ 7:20 am

The work I’ve been doing with other folks on syndication of recreational services and facilities now can be found at This is a follow up on the Missouri mapping project I’ve talked about here (although the work can easily be used elsewhere).
The most recent post contains javascript that can pull in an xml file marked up as recmap and display the points along with tabular information.

The goal of this approach is two-fold:

  1. Small towns or parks and recreation departments can easily post a Google map of their facilities.
  2. Aggregator sites like the Missouri River Water Trails site can periodically poll these sites (subject to approval of the source) and update information relevant to the site.

Of course, we’re always looking for feedback on how to make this system work better. So stop by or drop a note here to help or to let me know if you’re using some of the code created here in your own state.

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August 8, 2007

Missouri Conservation Dept. begins blog

Filed under: Government, blogging — kirk @ 6:59 am

My employer, the Missouri Dept. of Conservation, has dipped its foot in the water with a blog, Fresh Afield. Lorna Domke, the divisional chief for outreach and education, will be the initial writer and editor of the blog.

The primary thrust of the blog will be connect people of Missouri with the mission of the Department as well as raise awareness of the various resources we have when it comes to the great outdoors of Missouri.

July 21, 2007

Missouri provides online fiscal info.

Filed under: Government — kirk @ 12:50 am

Missouri recently launched a site that allows citizens to drill down into state government expenses. The Missouri Accountability Portal (MAP) allows you to view payment information for goods, services and program disbursements by category, vendor or contract.

I think it’s a great start on creating transparent government in Missouri…although I’d like to see a few additional features. The first would be to eliminate the alert you get if you aren’t using IE. If you’re a Firefox user, you’ll get an alert saying that you should use IE to get assured of a good Web experience. These sorts of alerts today are, in my opinion, like a pop-up announcement that the Web app wasn’t designed using best practices in javascript and xhtml. But this would be an easy fix…the site does work fairly well in Firefox by the way.
The other feature would be harder to add. While you can drill down to find out about the amount of a single payment to a vendor, you can’t (as far as I can tell) find out precisely what service or goods this payment secured for Missouri.

However, all that said, I think this is a great service to add to Missouri state government.

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