Open Data Portal Beta Encourages Visitors to 'Analyze Boston'

A beta version is live for testing now, with plans underway for an official launch in the spring.

by / March 1, 2017
Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock

Boston has launched a beta version of a new citywide open data platform. 

This project, dubbed Analyze Boston, is a work in progress, and city officials said in a statement that they hope the now-online preview will “spark conversation and get feedback” leading up to its official release this spring. The project's goal is to upgrade and enhance Boston’s current open data portal, on which Mayor Marty Walsh has long encouraged agencies to publish their data sets.

On the new site, visitors can now search through all of Boston’s open data sets, interacting with that data through preview, filter and visualization tools. Developers can also integrate those same data sets with robust API, or create charts and graphs that can then be embedded on external websites.

Developers emphasized five key differences between the beta and the existing portal it seeks to improve upon: 

  1. Consolidation: Boston’s open data sets are currently available on two sites, one for maps and one for everything else. The new portal collects it all in one place.
  2. Organization: To promote accessibility, data sets will now be organized into topic areas.
  3. Licensing: In the past, Boston’s data had been released under a variety of licenses. Now it will all be available with a consistent public domain license, so residents can use it however they see fit. Harvard Law School’s Cyber Clinic is helping with this.
  4. Less Data: The beta has fewer data sets because the development team is seeking to avoid bringing over information that is outdated or no longer maintained. They have also created a legacy portal tag for users looking to access older information, and they’ve vowed to continue expanding the breadth of available data by adding higher-quality, up-to-date sets.
  5. Open Source and User-Friendly: The beta platform is powered by an open source data management system, CKAN. It is also mobile-friendly for ease of use, and it is consistent with Boston.gov’s existing brand, for the many visitors who may be familiar with that.

The beta and the current data portal will exist simultaneously as the city moves toward the official launch. The platform is powered by OpenGov Open Data.

“Our goal in creating the Analyze Boston platform is to better fulfill the promise of open data and open government by seeing open data not just as a collection of data sets but as a platform for sharing knowledge,” said Andrew Therriault, Boston’s chief data officer, in a press release. “Our collaboration with OpenGov enabled us to develop and deploy this new portal more easily than if we tried to do it by ourselves. That let us focus on what we're good at — finding and cataloging high-quality data sets — rather than trying to deploy and manage software on our own."

This portal overhaul is the most recent step in Boston’s ongoing march toward its open data commitment. In July 2015, Mayor Walsh announced Boston’s Open and Protected Data Policy, which encourages city agencies to publish their data sets on the open data portal, while also providing guidance for which sets must be protected, along with ways to guard them. In May 2016, Boston hired Therriault to be its first chief data officer.

Other data efforts in the city include CityScore, executive data dashboards to monitor city performance, a hazard information platform for firefighters called Building Intelligence System, and a data-sharing agreement with Waze that improves traffic flow on the streets.