Work Completed By: Tanisha Mims
By combining local information with national/government level web services and application services from the web, we have the potential to add a large degree of value to existing information. This project is also interested in how we can re-use/re-purpose information or functionality from a central government or national level service in such a way that it is useful for Warwickshire residents/businesses or the public sector. The required outcome is a web mashup that makes use of at least:
- One web service that relates to the local area
- One web service that is maintained at a government or national level
- One on-line application service.
The combination of these services should provide a considerable value benefit over using them individually.
DETAILS/LOCATION OF PRACTICAL DEMONSTRABLE OUTPUT
Details of where code, web pages etc can be found.
Examples found during research:
Warwickshire Council Feeds – created by stratford_dc, code is viewable : http://pipes.yahoo.com/pipes/pipe.info?_id=rHL_j_J_3RGmPvLB_w6H4A
Kent traffic and travel – created by Kent County Council: http://www.kent.gov.uk/transport-and-streets/kent-traffic-and-travel/
myHantsweb – created by Hampshire County Council – a great piece of work using personalised content, still in its infancy but they have a robust and public IT strategy (http://www3.hants.gov.uk/ictstrategy.htm) http://www3.hants.gov.uk/myhantsweb.htm
DESCRIPTION OF THE WORK CARRIED OUT
Describe how you approached this piece of work, any technologies, tools or techniques that you found useful or tried and discarded. Include any examples that you used for inspiration and any contacts you have made in carrying out the work.
The initial approach was one of research: utilising the links provided in the project brief as a starting point and then branching out from there.
Microsoft Popfly – A tool that can be used to create and share mashups. I visited the first mashup I could find within the sidebar list – Jan Steberi MSDN Blog mashup(http://www.popfly.com/users/390370/MSDN%20blog). I didn’t believe that it was a good representation of a mashup from the initial view and my thoughts of what a mashup should be.
***Andy’s SEC Virtual Earth (http://www.popfly.com/users/Andy/SEC%20Virtual%20Earth) seemed to a be a good combination two unrelated but compatible sources of information – MS Virtual Earth maps and the latest SEC filings. This brought up potential ethical considerations – how far into someone’s life can you go with publically available data? Although the information used in this mashup is public information, it can also be seen by some as too invasive.
***SteveFromOz (http://www.popfly.com/users/SteveFromOz/Job%20Search) is a simple mashup using text fields to search job listings from Indeed.com website. Comparing the outputs, I am unsure of the benefits of what SteveFromOz has produced – the original website interface is searching for the exact information that his mashup is, it’s just the output is simplified on SteveFromOz’s mashup versus Indeed.com.
mysociety.org – A democracy website that counts URLs such as theyworkforyou.com, petitions.number10.gov.uk (which can be rebranded and reused by local government) and writetothem.com amongst their projects. I took a closer look at their website called whatdotheyknow.com that facilitates and tracks FOI requests. Theyworkforyou.com is a better representation of a combination of information being pulled from multiple sites/sources (Hansard, video feeds, voting records, etc) to present a different and more robust view of MPs. This website is being used as the basis of a project pursued by The Year of Collaboration (www.tyoc.co.uk) which “aims to facilitate face-to-face collaboration by organising regular times & events to get together and create/hack/explore/build/promote.” Information about the MCC-work-for-you project can be found at http://code.google.com/p/mcc-work-for-you/ and could be used as a basis for something similar for WCC.
showusabetterway.co.uk – A government site that hosted in 2008 a competition to fund mashup ideas from the public. They have listed examples of places where this is already taking place, available APIs and government data sites that are already accessible along with the lists of ideas there are submitted by the public.
programmableweb.com/mashups – All mashups located under one roof or as close as you can get. Great for the list of available APIs although the mashups directory is a bit hit or miss with a lot of apps in pre-2007 era. www.webmashup.com is an good alternative site.
rewiredstate.org/projects – An organisation that held ‘National Hack The Government Day’ on 7 March 2009 in which 80 developers created projects using public sector information. The place where I originally came across MCC-Work-For-You referenced above. The best of the projects is Active Places Reloaded (http://activeplaces.jamesandre.ws/) which is miles ahead of the original site (http://activeplaces.com/) in regards to functionality. One of the ones cited for an award doesn’t work as well as it may have done on the day - http://www.jobcentreproplus.com/. When I originally entered my postcode I received nationwide listings with no filtering applied. Attempting to use it again (14/04/2009) has offered a more targeted listing of jobs so whatever problems it was having before seems to be resolved.
One of my first stops outside the provided links was to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mashup_(web_application_hybrid)) which has a good definition of the term along with a table detailing the differences between mashups and portals. The Wikipedia entry also had a listing of the most commonly available mashup editors (it is slightly out of date – Google Mashup Editor application has been closed and migrated into Google App Engine).
Found an e-book copy of Pro Web 2.0 Mashups: Remixing Data and Web Services on the author’s (Raymond Yee) blog: http://blog.mashupguide.net/toc/. A very useful book that looks at the possibilities and practical uses of the technology. Unfortunately focuses on Google Mashups Editor which the author acknowledged as the best editor available and who was saddened by its demise.
Found a one-day conference called OpenGov (www.opengovevent.com) that is to ‘discuss the challenges and opportunities of social technologies to enable engagement, collaboration and transparency in government’ that will be held on 22 April in London. There are a multitude of events being held around the county in pursuit of delivering more meaningful content to citizens.
Liz Azyan’s PhD research blog on local government and its citizen engagement online projects: http://www.lgeoresearch.com/. Provides insight into current projects, grassroots happenings and background information, a great resource.
Mashup editors viewed:
Yahoo! Pipes – A much more developer focused editor than Popfly and definitely not as whizzy looking. Code modules (‘pipes’) are listed by function rather than category like in Popfly. All pipes are developed by Yahoo! with no user developed pipes available for use along with limited ability to view underlying code behind pipes unlike Popfly which offers an HTML view. Mashup attempt information located in following section.
Microsoft Popfly – As different from Yahoo! Pipes as an application can be. Interface is much more interactive (zooming in and out of blocks as they are built). Another key difference is the universal availability of user created blocks (provided with requisite warnings from Microsoft) that can be used in your mashups. Blocks are defined by category versus function as in Yahoo! Pipes. The greatest usage of this application seems to be for game development . Mashup attempt information located in following section.
JackBe Presto – As with IBM Mashup Center below, this isn’t something that you can easily view and test out like many of the other editors. This is geared towards business users rather than individuals. Has a rather robust user forum that would be useful as a resource if this line of work was pursued.
IBM Mashup Center – after many trials and errors, I finally go this to download. This isn’t something that you can easily view and test out like many of the other editors. This is geared towards business users rather than individuals. Lotus Mashups used to be a separate programme but has been folded into this application.
Liquid Apps – Originally found through a comment on a blog entry (http://blog.sherifmansour.com/?p=187=1 – Why Mashups = (REST + ‘Traditional SOA’) * Web 2.0). ***More advanced than Pipes or Popfly and seems geared towards the enterprise market although they state that its easily usable by technical and non-technical users.
Dapper – Found via Google search *** Attempted to create an RSS feed from Leamington Observer. Dapp Factory application is extremely easy to use with a good video tutorial running along side. Initial results not a complete success but not bad for a first attempt.
Mozilla Ubiquity – Found via Google search *** Really focused on user interfaces within Firefox browser. Allows user specific mashups within browser windows/applications using natural language (minimal coding required). Seems to be limited to Firefox only and has limited business application. Cool concept, though.
Describe the degree to which the work was successful in addressing the project description. Include reasons why or why not.
The results of my work did not produce a tangible outcome. I have gained a better understanding of the concept of mashups, a view as to how they are currently utilised around the world and in the UK specifically and an initial understanding of the tools available to put this into practise.
The stumbling block (aka “why there are no results”) is the difficulty in finding an area within the WCC that would be a good fit with the datasets that are available to the public and would combine to produce something of tangible value to the end user (public, councillor, employee, etc). This is also reflected overarching current focus in the majority of in-use mashups and examples provided by most companies/developers/etc – the mapping mashup. One of the first mashups referred to one most sites is www.housingmaps.com, a mashup combining housing data from Craigslist and Google Maps. The most popular mashups on Microsoft Popfly, Yahoo! Pipes, www.webmashup.com, www.programmableweb.com are map related. The government data most requested for release is mapping data (see www.freeourdata.org.uk – currently following the Ordnance Survey and Royal Mail Postcode Address File). From a few cursory glances, it appears that the first mashup service on a local government site is the traffic/roadworks/safety cameras map mashup (e.g. http://www.kent.gov.uk/transport-and-streets/kent-traffic-and-travel).
I attempted to produce a mashup combining the WCC Events feed along with information from national tourism sites (e.g. Heart of England or Visit Britain) and a mapping solution (Google, Microsoft or Yahoo!). I was able to input the WCC Event feed into Yahoo! Pipes and Microsoft Popfly and produce a listing. However I was unable to extract the location information from the WCC feed entry given the tools within those two editors (Popfly has MS provided as well as user provided code blocks while Pipes only has blocks provided by Yahoo that aren’t modifiable).
Yahoo! Pipes attempt: http://pipes.yahoo.com/pipes/pipe.info?_id=INeC7gUl3hGcxewTP27D0g *** It contains mapping information but I cannot understand where it’s deriving it from and why it has only found one viable location and placed it in Italy. Currently only contains WCC Events feed.
Microsoft Popfly attempt: http://www.popfly.com/users/391567/WCC%20Events *** Currently only a lame version of the RSS feed with no mapping attached. All mapping blocks within Popfly are looking for latitude and longitude information within the feed item and failing that will not map any of the items. Currently only contains WCC Events feed.
Dapp Factory attempt: http://www.dapper.net/dapp-howto-use.php?dappName=LeamObserverFeed ***Very smart application that can identify the most likely items on a page when first loaded into application. Can add more items with a click and it will identify similar items.
SHORT TERM BENEFITS
What immediate impact could the output of this R&D work have on the organisation – could it provide benefits without compromising our strategic approach?
It has been difficult to identify a place within the organisation where this could have an immediate impact and provide tangible benefits. It has highlighted the limitations in our current data sources (access, availability and structure) and could provide an impetus to clean and modify important/vital information that could be utilised in a beneficial web service. First step could be to canvass directorates for any potential internal uses before implementing something external facing.
How the work carried out fits with our strategic direction or how it should contribute to our strategic thinking.
The major limitation in integrating mashups with our strategic vision I found in carrying out this work is not the lack of available external data (although there are gaps in the types of data available) but the accessibility of our own data. To utilise the potential power of mashups, our data must conform to the stated NWA concept of ‘Information and Data Efficiency’. The second limitation is finding natural places where Warwickshire County Council and external data sources could combine to provide something of value to the end user. Some of the most useful applications have been built for nationwide use and it seems that it would be better to guide people to those services instead of re-inventing the wheel.