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Baltimore Builds Social Media Into Open Data Platform

Baltimore’s new open data website adds social media and interactivity to the mix.

Open government platforms are becoming a standard for any city looking to push transparency, but Baltimore is looking to go a step further by adding a layer of user interactivity.

The OpenBaltimore portal, announced Wednesday, Jan. 26, will make data sets publicly available, as other similar government websites have done. But in addition to viewing the data, citizens and application developers can use the portal as a tool for interacting with other users, said the city’s new CIO Rico Singleton.

“The additional functionality and uniqueness that I think is somewhat different is it gives you a tremendous ability to democratize the data and socialize it,” Singleton said. “So you can create your own views, your own use of the data, your own charts. You can share that out to common social networks — whether it be Facebook, Twitter, Digg — and create discussion forums around the data.”

The website’s initial launch included data from 21 agencies, and Singleton said users are already taking advantage of the interactive component to request data with the portal’s Suggest a Dataset function. As of Wednesday afternoon two users had made requests: one for a 911 call data feed and one for zoning and business data.

In addition to the data already available on the portal, agencies have been told to provide lists of their data sets within the next 30 days and identify what’s currently available to the public and what’s not. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake signed an executive order Wednesday that ordered each of the city’s departments, agencies, boards and commissions to take the steps needed to prepare the appropriate data under the city’s control for OpenBaltimore, according to a press release.

Working With CitiStat?

This isn’t the first time Baltimore has launched an effort to improve the city by using data. For more than 10 years, Baltimore CitiStat has used data analysis and mapping for performance measurement and resource management, for functions like law enforcement and public works. The system has since been replicated by several other U.S. cities. Singleton said OpenBaltimore doesn’t currently interface with CitiStat, however, the city wants to eventually integrate the two.

And what may seem like a costly endeavor actually came at no cost, Singleton said, aside from internal resources. The city’s IT staff built the original platform model, but partnered with Seattle-based open data solutions vendor Socrata five days before the launch to add additional functionality to the platform that would have taken the city’s IT staff months to do on its own, Singleton said.

Baltimore intends to continue working with Socrata during the project’s pilot phase, then officials will decide whether to move forward with the partnership or make OpenBaltimore an internal project. Socrata assisted with a speedier launch, while helping provide the additional functionality the city wanted for the portal, Singleton said.

“From the very beginning, we didn’t want this to just be a traditional data portal with just a bunch of data sitting there,” Singleton said. “We wanted it to be interactive; we wanted it to be social; we wanted it to be an experience around using the data for Baltimore.”