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

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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July 20, 2007

GeoRSS, Googlemaps and outdoor recreation

Filed under: Government, Collaboration, Geotagging, Missouri Mapping Project — kirk @ 9:04 pm

Haven’t posted for awhile because I’ve been busy with a new project.

In short, I’m working with some folks to create a way that cities, non-government organizations, as well as state and federal agencies can easily syndicate information about their outdoor recreational facilities and services with each other in Missouri.

This project has two components: One is a method by which xml can be used to syndicate information between all the partners listed above. The other is the use of google maps as a low-cost solution to present that information.

The project came about in response to a common problem I’ve seen in many collaborative Web projects. Many collaborative Web projects, in my opinion, fail because of how they collect information. Usually, a collaborative site will contact many organizations and manually collect information to put in a master database. By the time that information is collected, however, some of the information is already outdated.

After the collaborative Web site is launched, how to you update the information? The traditional approaches are to either no update it, engage in a major manual update project every few years or ask agencies to come to one central Web site and help update the collaborative Web site. None of these approaches works well.

Why not create an environment where all partners in a collaborative site simply made sure that data on their own respective sites was up to date? And what if the collaborative site was able to just go to each partner site and grab the up to date information? This would allow partners to focus on keeping their own site up to date and it would automatically update the collaborative site.

That’s the idea behind what I’m currently calling the Missouri Mapping project.

I’ll be posting more information about over the next few months, but I’d like to make two points up front:

  1. This project could work for any state or country. In fact, the more states that adopt this project, the more would help this project
  2. I’m quite eager to get and use any input you have on this project, how it could be improved, and any other type of suggestion or resource you might have to help this better a better project.

My overall goal is to provide a mechanism that enables government to easily collaborate with non-government organizations or individual citizens — specifically when it comes to getting people outdoors to enjoy (and ultimately protect) our wildlife habitat.

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