Comment 50049

By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted October 21, 2010 at 14:17:27

Remember that most of the Internet is powered by the software equivalent of pro-bono work. That's what "Open Source" generally refers to (the usage in municipal terms is a bit of a confusion, really).

When given a software problem, a programmer will "scratch the itch" and make a solution for their own usage. Then, because one of the chief virtues of a programmer is hubris, they will unleash their creation upon the world... sometimes for cash, often as a free program, but also often as an "open source" program - that is, a program that they have practically renounced ownership of and have provided the legal and technical means for other programmers to modify and redistribute. Another programmer will find the first person's solution inadequate their needs, and will augment it as he or she sees fit. And so on ad nauseum until you have a massive pile of code, duct-tape, bubble-gum and hacks that implements, say, the entire Microsoft Office suite or a complete enterprise-level database management system or a real-time strategy videogame framework or whatever.

Noteworthy examples of this process include the Firefox web browser that your IT guy probably recommended you use instead of IE, the Linux-based operating system that hosts the website you're commenting on, and the programming language that was used to implement the site itself.

Now, the idea of the open source city is that by making this data available in the purest form... refined only in that it is converted into standard-compliant formats... it allows hobbyists, professionals, and even highschool students to "scratch the itch" and serve their own needs from the data, hopefully in a manner. The Vancouver website is a particularly spectacular implementation of it in that they provide Google Maps pages for the spatial data, which means that you don't even need software to consume it - you can just look at it in a useful visual form... it's just that by providing the raw data, people can produce better displays or synthesis or applications of the data.

It's also better for that holy grail of capitalism, low-barrier-to-entry-competition. You don't have to be Google to make a route-planning system in Vancouver - the mapping information is available to anyone who can apply an A* algorithm (you don't have to know how A* works to apply it, just that it finds the shortest distance between two points on a graph) and can make a route-planning app that incorporates bike routes and alleyways. And so can anybody else, so you may as well give it away for free.

Having data available in a form meant for programs and not just eyeballs means that you and me get new information-based services for free, because it eliminates the barrier to entry and drives the price-point to zero.

Your processing of the data can be simple excel spreadsheets, or can be complete applications. By providing this information freely and up front, it empowers everyone to do as much with it as they are able.

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2010-10-21 13:18:39

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