Some of the nation’s most innovative users of open government data accepted surprise invitations to the White House for national recognition in June. Sixteen citizen software developers met with White House officials at a “Champions of Change” event designed to showcase the potential of Web apps utilizing data sets made available by federal, state and local agencies. Developers who made the cut boasted apps that enable users to find and organize pick-up games at public facilities, guide citizens through zoning ordinances and direct parents to child-friendly locations, along with numerous other services.

VIDEO: White House showcases innovative open-data apps from citizen developers.

 

After a formal ceremony, White House staff whisked all 16 “champions” to a meeting, where they found themselves surrounded by historic art and furniture as they traded ideas with national CTO Aneesh Chopra and other officials.

At times, Chopra asked questions with rapid-fire speed, finishing developers’ sentences and concocting ideas that displayed a detailed mastery of federal IT initiatives. At other times, he was joshing the champions, like when he insisted young developer Conor White-Sullivan was a Justin Bieber look-alike. Several of the apps triggered suggestions about ways the developers could collaborate with the White House. Following are video interviews with the champions.


Leigh Budlong’s Zonability app guides citizens through complicated building ordinances. Federal CTO Aneesh Chopra, who chairs the U.S.-India Open Government Dialogue, said the app could help India prevent government corruption. During a trip to India last year, a farmer told President Barack Obama of the difficulty in getting his certified land records. Chopra said an app like Zonability could make related data available online, allowing landowners to bypass government offices. In this video, Budlong discusses how she came up with her project and the challenges she faced in application development.


 Sportaneous, created by Aaron Royston and Omar Haroun, enables people to find and organize pick-up games at public facilities. Federal CTO Aneesh Chopra offered to put Royston and Haroun in touch with First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign for a potential partnership. In this video, they talk about what makes their application unique and the importance of open data.


Jill Seman created Mom Maps, which guides parents to child-friendly locations and allows end-users to add recommendations. San Francisco residents have used the app to pressure city leaders to address park safety problems. Federal CTO Aneesh Chopra said Mom Maps could help parents in transparency-challenged countries alert their governments to problems at public facilities. Mom Maps already serves cities in multiple countries, so Chopra asked an agreeable Seman if she could create a button that lets international users easily endorse complaints about facilities. Those complaints could be routed to the Obama administration, which could send them to appropriate officials overseas. In this video, Seman discusses what exactly MomMaps is and whether it has expanded beyond San Francisco.


  Savita Farooqui is president of SymSoft Solutions, a small Web development and integration firm that created California Cage Fight, which generates side-by-side comparisons of municipalities based on information such as income, population and unemployment rates. Federal CTO Aneesh Chopra talked to Farooqui about enhancing her application with data from the U.S. Department of Commerce. In this video, Farooqui talks about where she wants to take her app in the future and the importance of open data.


 Randall Leeds is developing a platform for building “community-curated” directory apps. Called the ReDirectory, this app aims to assist those providing services for low-income communities with an up-to-date referral resource. In this video, Leeds discusses how he came up with this project and the challenges he faced during development.


Michael Riedyk created YouTown, a suite of prepackaged apps for agencies to pair with their open data. YouTown’s selling point is that governments supply the data, YouTown provides the apps, and agencies simply adjust the settings the way they would on a Google account. Riedyk’s hope is that citizens will automatically go to YouTown when they need government data, similar to how people go to YouTube to find videos. Governments wanting open data apps can get them without launching app development contests or using internal resources. Taking a more expansive view, Federal CTO Aneesh Chopra said YouTown could be an easy, inexpensive way for other countries to adopt open data principles. In this video, Riedyk talks about the challenges he faced during application development and what makes his app unique.


 David Van Sickle is the co-founder and CEO of Asthmapolis, a Madison, Wis.,-based company that's developing tools to enable asthma patients to track how often they use their medication. Van Sickle hopes public health agencies can use data collected by the tools to improve patient health. In this video, Van Sickle talks about how he came up with his project and where he wants to take it in the future.


 Waldo Jaquith created Richmond Sunlight, a free Web-based app for tracking legislation in the Virginia General Assembly. The app provides video sessions, voting records of legislators, and an application programming interface for integration into other websites. In this video, Jaquith shares how he come up with this project and what makes his application unique.


 Conor White-Sullivan’s Localocracy is a community-focused discussion board that seeks only participants who are registered to vote and use real names. Localocracy aims to empower informed citizens to generate discussions that influence citizens, governments and journalists. The White House saw the app as a way to stimulate local conversations about federal programs. Federal CTO Aneesh Chopra said Localocracy could be a useful vehicle to spread awareness of federal solar energy subsidies and other initatives. In this video, White-Sullivan discusses what makes his application unique and the challenges he faced in app development.


 As a federal open data contest entry, Dave Augustine, Bob Burbach and Andrew Carpenter redesigned the Federal Register in a way that made the loads of documents easier to consume. Federal officials were so impressed they collaborated with the developers to officially redesign FederalRegister.gov. In this video, the three developers discuss how they came up with the project and the challenges they faced during development.


Dan O’Neil created Citypayments, a website that aims to make it easy to search vendors, contracts and payments posted by Chicago agencies. In this video, O'Neil discusses how he came up with Citypayments and what makes his application unique.


 David Emory and Brian Ferris have been collaborating with the Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (TriMet) to create an open source trip planner that combines multiple modes of transportation. TriMet expects the app to be serious competition for expensive proprietary apps. In this video, Emory shares how he and Ferris came up with the project and the challenges they faced during development.

Andy Opsahl  |  Features Editor