DataBootcamp 12th-14th March @ Montevideo, Uruguay

DSCF6474For the second time in South America (the first was last June in Bolivia), the World Bank launched last week a 3-days DataBootcamp in Uruguay, Montevideo, co-organised with the British Embassy and AGESIC, the Uruguayan Agency for E-government. This free data training, which already took place several times in african countries and Nepal, is the place to be if you want to learn how to make use of the technologies to work with data. With always a fix number of 25 journalists, 25 designers and 25 developers; the aim of this conference is to bring participants digital tools they can use as well in their daily work as in independent projects. That, using visualisations and Open Data sources. Because learning by doing is the most effective way, participants had to work in small groups and submit a data project that address a specific problem in Uruguay. All projects were presented at the end of the 3rd day, concurring for a 2000$ grant offered by the organisers to implement it. There were plenty of creative and fantastic ideas, so not surprising that it was hard for the jury to select just one of them. ¿Quién paga? won the price, a project whose aim is to analyse and visualise data on the financing of the upcoming election campaign 2014.

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Invited to join the experts team, we ran two presentations: the first on CartoDB, the online tool to visualize georeferenced data on a map. The second was a summary of the most exciting organisations and projects we have discovered and documented during our journey so far, and we have no doubt this source of inspiration can give birth in the future to promising Uruguayan initiatives.

In Uruguay, there is FOI since 2008 which guarantees the free access to public data. A governmental Open Data platform was initiated by AGESIC in 2010 and, as Virginia Pardo (director of the E-Citizenship department) states, the site should contain 120 datasets by the end of this year, prioritising quality over quantity. Also, a citizens group named DATA, co-founded in 2009 by two of the experts present at the DataBootcamp, works on making Open Data more known and efficiently used in Uruguay. Because there is no sense to release data if it is not used afterwards. DATA hosts the regular “cafés de data”, meet-ups in Montevideo for collaborative projects, and co-organised last year, together with the chilean fellows from Ciudadano Intelligente, the pan-Latinamerica ABRE LATAM conference on Open Data. Small country, but lots of remarkable initiatives!

The 3 days have been incredibly enriching and we decided to record a short video to share with you these moments. We invite you to watch it and get a feeling of this great DataBootcamp!


Ushahidi: Open Source platform for collaborative data collection @ Nairobi, Kenya

logo_300It is not necessary to say that software plays a very important role in the current Open Data scene. Developers are creating brilliant pieces of code that make working with data a fast, efficient and sometimes even fun experience. This also applies to data collection. Because sometimes it is not possible to find the data we are looking for, we are in need of gathering it ourselves. Ushahidi is a platform you will like to look at if you are in this situation.

In a nutshell, it allows citizens to make reports in a collaborative way, creating crowdsourced interactive maps. With a very intelligent approach, Ushahidi gives citizens the possibility to use the web, their smartphones and even SMS to gather data, which makes this technology accessible almost everywhere and for everyone. Originally created in Kenya to serve as an instrument for social activism and public accountability in crisis situations, the software has proven to be a great companion worldwide in bringing advocacy campaigns to a successful end. The team behind Ushahidi has not only created a world-changing technology but also they share it with others since it is released as Open Source. We contacted Chris Albon, director of data projects, and asked him some questions so you can learn more about this great tool.


1) Hello Chris, could you first introduce yourself? Briefly, what are the activities of Ushahidi as company and what is the purpose of your main product, the Ushahidi platform?

My name is Chris Albon and I am in charge of Ushahidi’s data work. Ushahidi is a Kenyan technology non-profit that builds platforms, tools, and communities extending from rural Kenya to the coast of Louisiana. As a disruptive organization we believe our place is at the bleeding edge; it is part of our organization’s DNA.

Beyond leading a movement in crisis mapping through mobile phones and the internet, and revolutionizing an industry of data-use to solve problems, we helped build the iHub in Nairobi, creating a new model for innovation and tech startups in the region and changed the perspective about where innovation comes from.

The core Ushahidi platform for data collection and changing the way information flows is now used in 159 countries around the world. It has been translated into 35 languages and has been deployed over 50,000 times. In addition, the iHub has grown to more than 10,000 members, spun out 28 companies and spawned a movement of tech hubs across the African continent.

2) Quoting your website, “the tool contributes to democratise information, increase transparency and lower the barriers for individuals to communicate their stories”. Could you give us some examples of Ushahidi-based initiatives that have succeeded on their goals?

There are many examples of Ushahidi tools being used to democratize information, from fighting sexual harassment in Egypt to civil society activism in Ukraine. For us, success is a user able to gain new knowledge and power from data from the crowd.

3) Who is actually using the Ushahidi platform? Are they individuals, NGOs, activists, public administrations? Is there a topic or an issue that is much more addressed among all the users? In which countries/continents has the platform been more actively used? Why?

Ushahidi is used by all manner of people and organizations, from small non-profits wishing to monitor an election to international organizations tracking disaster relief efforts. The platform is used globally and on a whole spectrum of issues.

4) We have recently written an article focused on data-journalism. Is the Ushahidi platform currently being used also for journalistic purposes? How can data-journalists work with it?

Ushahidi has been used to gather new data and reports from journalists. My particular favourite comes from 2012: Al Jazeera used Ushahidi to tell a story previously almost entirely untold in the international media about what Ugandans thought about Joseph Kony.

5) We see on your website that you have other products too. Could you tell us a bit more about Crowdmap, BRCK and Swiftriver?

Crowdmap is our hosted geo-story telling platform, allowing people add a layer of “place” to things that matter to them. Swiftriver is our product for tracking and understanding the social web. Ping is an app we built after the West-gate attack to help people report in that they are okay after an emergency. Finally, BRCK is our rugged router for maintaining data connectivity no matter the environment.

6) You are working hard to build up a community (support, development wiki, help forum,…). What kind of contributors are getting involved in it? How big has been the impact of it for the development of Ushahidi’s products?

Ushahidi’s community has had a huge impact on the products development in a wide variety of areas, from volunteering during deployments of the software, to bug testing, to developing new features. We could not do what we do without them.

7) Ushahidi develops open source software. What are the reasons and benefits for a company like yours for making the code available for everyone? Reading your site, “we have also built a strong team of volunteer developers in Africa, but also in Europe, South America and the US”. Is this engagement a consequence of the Open Source collaborating philosophy?

Absolutely. The open source nature of the software makes community involvement possible. If our software was not open source, there would be very little way for our great community to help us make the software better.

8) Ushahidi provides services (consulting, customization, deployment) around the platform. What kind of organisations do you count under your clients? Besides this, do you rely on other financial resources?

Ushahidi is lucky enough to have a set of great organizations supporting our work, from the Rockefeller Foundation to to many others. In addition we also provide additional services for users who want some technical customization, training, or strategic guidance in the deployment of the platform or management of crowdsourced data.

9) Recently, you have released the version 3.0 of your platform. Can you give us an insight of the new features? Also, what are the kind of development of your products we can expect in the upcoming versions? In general, which are the next steps for Ushahidi?

Ushahidi has had the same platform code base for 5 years. A year ago we spent the time to do very deep user experience research within our user base, our developer base, and our own team in order to build a new, better Ushahidi core platform. We call it “v3”.

The purpose of v3 (The next generation of the platform) is to provide a better crowdsourcing platform, so that the leaders, crisis responders, funders, and decision making organizations can do their work more efficiently, gather better information, and understand what’s happening on the ground. It is a data collection platform that makes gathering and organizing data easy. It is a mobile first platform, as always, thinking of people with simple phones and moving up to those with web access for a beautiful visual feel.

Many thanks for all your time!

Meeting @ INRIA Chile, Santiago, Chile

DSCF6053South America presents a very active environment in terms of Open Data so we didn’t want to loose time and scheduled our first meeting for the next day after our arrival. At their great offices in Santiago’s downtown area, the team from INRIA Chile welcomed us warmly for a great encounter where we could get lots of useful information about Open Data in Chile and its neighbouring countries.

As a joint initiative from both the french research centre INRIA and the chilean innovation incubator CORFO, the non-for-profit organization INRIA Chile is working on several areas (ITC, renewable energies, transparency) with the focus of putting technology in action for society’s good. For this purpose, they rely greatly on data-collection and analysis mechanisms which represent the component of their work we wanted to discover about.

DSCF6047The team of developers, researchers and engineers are developing solutions such as Adkintun, a project which monitors the quality and availability of the internet access provided by the different ISPs in the country. The goal of this project, which counts also with a mobile version for measuring 3G networks, is to ensure that customers get what they pay for, transparently. We could experience as well about their ongoing project to monitor the movement patterns of Santiago’s cyclists and to generate relevant traffic data. This information could be very helpful to support the local administration’s plans for improving the current bicycle roads in the city.

Also a member of Data Publica was among us, another french endeavour working actively with Open Data. Collaborating closely with INRIA, Data Publica is a for-profit organisation which provides a wide spectrum of services around Open Data, Big Data and data visualisation that companies, administrations and other organisations can profit from.

INRIA Chile initiated in January 2013 the event series named Data Tuesday. Taking place in different locations of Santiago every 2 months, the sessions gather experts and data enthusiasts with the aim to discuss and exchange about the state of the art, new projects and future developments. After last year´s success, Data Tuesday will continue in 2014, now with a thematic approach, the next date is the 25th March and focus on Health data.

Bildschirmfoto 2014-02-28 um 13.47.38The existence of such a high-profile event taking place regularly and attracting numerous attendees is another evidence of the great momentum Open Data is experiencing in Chile nowadays. After leaving the military dictatorship behind in 1990, the country has been quickly transitioning towards a democratic and transparent state. As a matter of fact, Chile belongs to the Open Government Partnership and has already built different online sites promoting Open Government initiatives and citizen’s participation. Additionally, there is an official Open Data platform (implemented with Junar) since 2011 where the government is releasing and showcasing a lot of applications that use the available datasets. Not only the public administration is putting its efforts on this line, but civil society organisations as Ciudadano Inteligente or Poderopedia, and an independent agency for transparency have been all involved.

Indeed, there is a lot going on. Sadly we won’t be in Santiago for the upcoming Data Tuesday, but INRIA Chile has invited us to run one of our sessions on a closer date. We will be happy to meet you on 10th March at their offices for our Open Data Visualisation workshop!

Meeting @ Mozilla Factory, Tokyo, Japan

When it comes to Open Source, it is mandatory to think about Mozilla. Both a company, creator of the well-known non-commercial web browser, and a foundation, promoting free and Open Source software; Mozilla is one of the big players in today’s internet scene.


Some months ago, we experienced about the creation of the Mozilla Factory in Tokyo, a place where people can practice and learn Open Source creation. Straight away, we put it on the list of projects we definitely had to cover.

 Since the Mozilla Japan team changed its office last March, a new space had to be created which reflects the principles of openness that the foundation supports. As the Mozilla creative researcher Noriatsu Kudo shared with us, the space welcomes saturdays everyone with creative ideas and offers a great workplace with lots of equipment in order to put them into action. Players and Tutors (middle, high school and college students) work together with Mentors (members of the Mozilla team and university professors) in several ongoing projects. We could see on the spot several cool concepts for the reinvention of the mouse, such as the warm-hugging one, another for working out while browsing and our favourite one; a mouse that stops functioning after too long period of use, perfect for workaholics.


Another remarkable element of this great place is its Open Source furnitures which have been designed through a collaboration with the studio NOSIGNER. From tables, through plant pots to lamps, the bright space features smart objects that can be replicated and repurposed by everyone since the drawings are available online for free.

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But this is not all! Mozilla’s new project is also worth to mention: the MozBus, a refurbished camping van turned into a nomadic web factory. Equipped with a satellite dish, power-generator and other technology items, the MozBus brings the web to remote places in Japan. On its tours, roving workshops are conducted with the purpose of raising awareness and teaching Open Source to those that cannot afford a trip to the headquarters in Tokyo.

In its recent history, the country had to face tremendous natural disasters and disaster management is also one of the main missions of this great project. The MozBus is ready to drive to affected areas and provide internet infrastructure while working as a mobile hotspot and data collection station or mobile research centre.

If you happen to travel to Tokyo, we definitely encourage you to follow Mozilla Japan and to check their event calendar. We wish we could stay longer to enjoy this inspiring place!

International Open Data Day @ Kyoto, Japan

Map Open Data day

Do you know what happens on the 22nd February? If you do, you may have participated in one of the 145 events taking place worldwide for the International Open Data Day (ODD). This date „is a gathering of citizens in cities around the world to write applications, liberate data, create visualizations and publish analyses using open public data to show support for and encourage the adoption open data policies by the world’s local, regional and national governments“. Targeted not only for developers or designers but for anyone willing to dive in the topic, the ODD is a great opportunity to get involved with the movement which is already changing the way citizens and government interact.

With the only constraints that the events should be open and take place on the 22.02, local communities are free to shape the form and contents as they want. Since we are currently in Japan, we looked at the list of the 33 events in the country and decided to attend the one in Kyoto.

DSCF5876There, a small group of volunteers (coming from the public and private sector such as members of the OpenStreetMap Foundation) initiated for the first time in the Kansai region a session of the Open Data Day. The event was created and managed via Facebook and took place in the coworking space of the Research Park Machiya Studio. More than 40 participants, a mix of all ages and professions from the surrounding region, were gathered by the wish to learn together how to digitally share knowledge and make use of it. OpenStreetMap and Wikipedia were on the agenda and the attendees were separated in four groups to explore four different areas close to the venue. Because Kyoto is the ancient capital city of Japan and counts with numerous historical places, the central theme was to search for old buildings and places of interest in order to report them on the both collaborative platforms and thus extend the quantity and quality of the data already available. After finding out the basics and downloading the Pushpin OSM mobile editor, each group could go out and start working.


Today´s event was a great environment to research about the general status of Open Data in Japan. If a program for Building e-Government was launched from 2003, the first initiatives were not implemented before 2008, when a public CIO forum was set up and these efforts led afterwards to the creation of the so-called Open Government Strategy in 2012. This development proved to be extremely relevant after the devastating earthquake in 2011. Indeed, thanks to the short-term coordination and reaction possibilities that existing data (partly real-time) facilitated, the damage could be effectively reduced. Actually, disaster management is one of the main focus within the japanese strategy regarding public data.

Fast forward to last year, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication released Datameti, a test platform for sharing governmental data. However, this was not done in an open way (copyright licensed) so it was December 2013 when the official central open data platform was launched, also in beta version but this time using Creative Commons licenses. On this platform, built using OKFN’s Open Source framework CKAN, users can find datasets categories by the different ministries and agencies releasing them.

Although there are still many issues to be solved, such as statistical information regarding budget and expenditures still being released under copyright, the overall situation of the Open Data movement in Japan is good. A prolific future is certainly asserted by the engagement of organisations and citizens all over the country, like those taking part in this year’s Open Data Day.

Workshop @ DimSumLabs, Hong Kong, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region

DSCF5384On our single date in Hong Kong, we were welcomed by the members of another hackerspace, what made us think about the great encounters we had during the first two months we spent in Europe. Dim Sum Labs (DSL) is located on the Hong Kong island, surrounded by a large number of incredibly high skyscrapers. A small but very cozy space full of tools and electronic devices serves as a meeting point and working space for a group of around thirty hackers/makers. DSL hosts regular events like Hackjams, Free Software development evenings and workshops where everyone can learn about electronics, build creative things and have a good time meeting people. Running our workshop there was possible thanks to the help of Open Data Hong Kong (ODHK), a group of passionate individuals that joined forces one year ago and is actively promoting Open Data in the HK region, building a network and organising events around the topic. Our session took place as part of their regular Meet series.

As ODHK has already done a great job making awareness on the benefits of Open Data, we decided not to present our usual beginners targeted workshop and prepared new contents that would be more suitable for the attendees. On the video below, you can see our recap of the most exciting projects we have discovered till now.


DSCF5389The open discussion following our presentation was extremely interesting, probably because of Hong Kong’s unique context. Since centuries, the archipelago has been a cultural melting pot and nowadays shows a very open character in areas such as culture, demographics and economy. Since its retrocession to China in 1997, Hong Kong owns a special status: the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. This guarantees a certain independency regarding Open Data/Open Government policies that allows the existence of an Open Data platform although there is no, as in mainland, Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA). The HK administration shows itself quite active promoting openness, organises Hackathons and sponsors competitions to encourage the use of the released data. Also, a governmental initiative called Digital21 ensures that public information gets released in machine-readable formats by the time it is created, similar as it happens in the US/UK.

Although our stay in HK was quite short, we have learned a lot from the activists of this amazing metropole. We would like to thank again ODHK for their collaboration and wish them a lot of success on their future activities, specially finding a great space for their headquarters!

Slides of the presentation
Slides of the presentation

Meeting @ Mekong River Commission, Vientiane, Lao PDR

mrc1 For our last meeting in Southeast Asia, we headed to the Lao PDR capital to document the Data Portal developed and maintained by the Mekong River Commission Secretariat (MRCS). The agency represents an inter-governmental initiative between four (Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam) of the six countries located in the Mekong Basin which, quoting from its website; acts as a joint management of shared water resources and sustainable development of the Mekong River.

The focus of our meeting, held with two members of the IT Team, was to discover more about its Data and Information Services Portal launched in 2005. The MRCS Portal is the access point for data, information and services provided by MRCS via the Internet. It provides access to quality assured datasets, atlases, model setup, model results, Google Earth overview, map services etc. On this platform, built using Open Source technologies, real time water level and quality data among other Mekong Basin related information are available as interactive maps, reports and multimedia contents. As we could experience, the data is being aggregated from different governmental agencies, MRCS Programmes, but also automatically transferred from a network of 47 hydro-meteorological stations within the region, which continuously feed “near” real-time information to the system.


Users can register for free to access the data. Daily, about 40 to 90 visitors from national agencies, research institutes, academia, students and companies accessed the Portal since 2011 when the redesigned Portal was launched. Only registered users who had signed a license agreement can download or purchase data sets. Compared to Open Data platforms, there are restrictions when it comes to downloading and using the information. Depending on the categorisation of the contents, some fees may apply. All users, except internal ones who are national agencies, are required to pay for handling services. The data are owned by the countries, and they are happy to share them among the member countries, but not all the data are meant to be readily available on the website.

Along this line, we could discuss with MRCS’s IT-Team about the benefits of releasing the data in an open manner. As the intention of the portal is to make the data available in a usable way, choosing open licenses for the content would contribute to the goals behind it and might be implemented in the near future. Although, this decision requires a common agreement between MRC’s member countries.

Talking about the future, the team revealed us some interesting new features the platform will offer with an upcoming update. Raw text will be replaced by XML as the chosen format to release the data, users will be able to combine multiple layers on the interactive maps and the last research results about climate change will be soon available increasing the number of datasets.

Back to the context in Laos, there is, as we already experienced in Cambodia and Thailand, no official Open Data platform. Neither we could find any other data portal or similar projects during our research in this country.

“Open Data Now”: an inspiring reading for Open Data entrepreneurs @ New York, USA

open-data-coverWritten by Joel Gurin, “Open Data Now” has being published early this year and “presents a strategy for success in the coming era of massive data”. The author, a former sciencejournalist who also worked as consumer advocate before turning into the federal administration, has the experience to give us an overview on how Open Data is affecting both private and public sector. Although useful for everyone interested in the topic, this book is specially dedicated for entrepreneurs, small business owners and corporate executiveswilling to build additional value on top of it. Not to forget that its subtitle reads: “The Secret to Hot Startups, Smart Investing, Savvy Marketing, and Fast Innovation”.

But also for citizens, advocates and researchers

The 14-chapters-book begins defining the concept of Open Data and shares details on how the movement got developed in its origins in the US. Already in the introduction, the author remarks the positive impact of Open Data in the private sector, and this focus remains present along the entire book. However, it is described how Open Data also acts as a regulatory mechanism that pushes organisations towards being more transparent. Different cases are presented where data is used to raise awareness on social or local issues, to improve public safety or to condemn irregularities that affect citizens.

But not only private companies and governments are being influenced by this new movement. The scientific research is a field where sharing data is also playing a very important role. Stressing the concept of Open Innovation, chapter ten gives examples of research institutions which are directly profiting from an increasing amount of data being released. Collaboration between scientists and crowdsourcing strategies are defined as new elements for the success of academic and scientific challenges. Reading these pages, we thought automatically about, the initiative for sharing genomics data for research we previously covered.

As the reader can notice, the book focuses on the status of Open Data in the US and UK. Most of the examples come from there. It is clear that both countries are leaders in this global movement, but what happens with others? Can the contents of this book be applied to other parts of the world? We were curious about this and asked the author:

  • Mr. Gurin, your research is mainly based on the context of the US and UK. As you mentioned, Open Data is now a global topic and we can find actors in every continent. What was the reason to leave out other countries? Should we expect a second book with a worldwide approach?

I can’t say yet whether I’ll write a second book – I’m still spreading the word about this one! I focused on the US and UK in Open Data Now because this book is largely focused on business applications of Open Data, and my sense is that those have developed first and most extensively in those two countries. However, the Open Data 500 project (see below) has attracted interest from countries around the world, and we’re now preparing to replicate it in a dozen countries or more. I hope that will help bring a broader international perspective to the field.

Personal data for consumer’s benefit

In the third chapter, the concept of smart disclosure gets presented as a tool to help consumers take better decisions and spend money more wisely in different areas such as healthcare, energy or education. Furthermore, an efficient use of open governmental data leads to the creation of new business opportunities, some of them are illustrated along these pages.

The same chapter is also dedicated to the value of personal data. Although this information should not be qualified as open, its use offers benefits both for consumers and service providers (i.e optimizing shopping, helping to choose the best health insurance or finding a suitable house). It is in this part that we experienced for the first time about the “Blue Button” and “Green Button” initiatives which allow patients and consumers in the US download their medical and energy consumption reports respectively. We asked Mr. Gurin a second question in order to get more information about this:

  • Mr. Gurin, do you think that users are ready to share their personal data with third parties? At what price? Will this kind of data get the same momentum as Open Data has? Is the internet enough safe to allow a sustainable and secure development of this area?

This is a great question, and one that we can’t answer yet. My best guess is that consumers will be attracted to “personal data vaults” – the new technologies for storing your personal data in a secure way – because they promise a way to keep individual data safe and under the user’s control. Once personal data vaults become common, they’ll offer the opportunity for people to share their personal data selectively and securely with third parties who can help them by knowing more about them. Whether we can make the Internet safe enough to prevent serious data breaches, however, remains a question.

“Open Data Now” is not only a book

Bildschirmfoto 2014-01-25 um 10.56.38As the author states,“ the world of Open Data is moving fast, and no book on this topic can be completely current”. That’s why Mr. Gurin has created the website which contains a blog with news and links to follow the latest developments, debates and opportunities around the topic. We encourage you to visit it to stay updated and also discover about the Open Data 500 project: a study run by The Governance Lab where the author serves as senior advisor. It consists on identifying 500 of the US companies that use open government data to generate new business and develop new products and services. The upcoming release is planned for early 2014 and will allow researchers to download collected data. A very interesting idea that will definitely help to monitor the influence of Open Data in the business sector in the US.

Get the book

Feeling interested? You can get the book or read the first chapter here!

HackYourPhd: reporting on Open Science from the US @ Boca Raton/Paris, USA/France

carte-voyage-HYPhDUS_rev2A summer trip through the US to discover and document Open Science projects? When we first heard about HackYourPhd, we were excited to notice how similar is the concept of their research with our own. The idea was initiated last year by two young french researchers, Célya Gruson-Daniel & Guillaume Dumas, and “aims to bring more collaboration, transparency, and openness in the current practices of research.” Célya travelled during 3 months from Boca Raton (Florida) to Washington DC, gathering information and meeting people and groups active in the Open Science scene.

While this roundtrip in the US is now over, HackYourPhd is still active and has become an online community where the research continues. Read below the interview with the two persons behind this fantastic initiative and discover how the idea came to life, the insights of the trip and what is coming next.

1) Hi Célya & Guillaume, you both co-founded HackYourPhd, a community focused on Open Science which gave a globetrotter-initiative in the US last year. We are really curious how did you get this idea and to know more about it. Don’t forget to introduce yourself and the concept of Open Science too!

Hi Margo & Alex, thanks for this interview. We discovered a few months ago your great project. Now, we are much happy to help you since it is a lot related to what we tried to do last summer with “HackYourPhD aux States”. But before speaking about this Open Science tour across the USA, let’s us remind first the genesis and the aim of HackYourPhD in general. HackYourPhD is a community which gathers young researchers, PhD and master students, designers, social entrepreneurs, etc. around the issues raised by the Open Science movement. We co-founded this initiative a year ago. The idea of this community emerged from our mutual interest to research and its current practices. Guillaume is indeed postdoc in cognitive science and complex systems. He is also involved in art-science collaborative projects and scientific outreach. Célya is specialized in science communication. After two years as community manager for a scientific social network based on Open Access, she is now working in science communication for different projects related to MOOCs and higher education. We are both strong advocator for Open Science and that mainly why we came up with HackYourPhD. While Guillaume has tried to integrate Open Science in his practice, Célya wanted to explore the different facets with a PhD. But before, she wanted to meet the multiple actors behind this umbrella word. This is what motivated “HackYourPhD aux States,” the globetrotter-initiative per-see.

2) Why did it make sense especially in the US to follow and report Open Science projects? Could you imagine yourself doing it in other countries? What about France?

Because this was in the English speaking country that the Open Science movement has been started. That is thus also there that it is the most developed to date, from Open Access (e.g. PLoS) to the hackerspaces (e.g. noisebridge). There is also a big network of entrepreneurs in Open Science, which is specifically an aspect we were interested in. Célya thus decided to first look at the source of the movement and take time (three month) before doing a similar exploration in Europe with shorter missions (e.g. one week). Concerning France, we have still begun to monitor what is taking off, from citizen science to open data and open access. While we have certainly a better vision, the movement is still embryonic. But the movement will also take other forms and that is also what we are interested in. Célya is thinking to make her PhD in a research action mode, being observer and actor in this dynamical construction of the French Open Science movement.

3) From our experience, we could schedule our encounters and events both before starting the journey and on the way. Is that the same for you? How did you select your stops, the projects documented and persons interviewed? Is Open Science a widespread topic or it was actually difficult to find cases for your research?

Célya had already a blueprint of the big cities and the main path to follow. With the help of the HackYourPhD community, she gathered many contacts and constitute a first database of locations to visits and people to meet. Before starting, the first step—San Diego and the bay area—was almost scheduled. Then, the rest of the trip was set up on the way. Few important meetings were already scheduled of course (e.g. the Center for Open Science, the Mozilla Science Lab, etc.) but across the travel, new contact were given spontaneously by the people interviewed. Serendipity is your friend there! Regarding difficulties to find cases, this is quite function of the city. While San Francisco was really easy, Boston for example, which is full of nice projects, was nevertheless more challenging.

4) We know it is difficult to point out just one of them … but could you tell us what is your favourite or one of the most relevant Open Science initiatives you have discovered?

When Célya was in Cambridge, she visited the Institute for Quantitative Social Science. She met the director of the Data Science, Mercè Crosas and her team. Célya discovered the Dataverse Network project. It is one of the most relevant Open Science initiatives she discovered. Indeed, this project combines multiple facets of Open Science. It consists in building a platform allowing any researcher to archive, share and cite his data. It has many functionalities cleverly linking it to other aspects of Open Science (open access journal with OJS, citation, alt-metrics..). Here are the interview Mercè Crosas

5) As we discussed previously with Fiona Nielsen, sharing knowledge in the scientific domain has a positive impact. After your research, why does Open Science matter and how does it change the way scientists have been working till now?

Open Science provides many ways to increase efficiency in scientific practices. For example, Open Data allows research to better collaborate; while this solution seems obvious to many, it appears as a necessity when it comes to big science (e.g. CERN, ENCODE, Blue Brain, etc.) Open Data means also more transparency, which is critical to solve the lack of reproducibility or even frauds.

Open Access presents several advantages but the main one remains the guarantee to access scientific papers to everyone. As a journalist, Célya faced many times the issue of paywalls, and this is always frustrating. Last but not least, Open Science opens up new possibilities for collaboration between academia and other spheres (entrepreneurs, civil societies, NGO, etc.) Science is a social and collective endeavour, it thus needs contact with society and leave its ivory tower. The Open Science movement is profoundly going in that direction, and that why it matters.

6) As you know, Open Steps focuses on Open Data related projects. Quoting you, “In Seattle, I noticed a strong orientation of Open Science issues around Open Data.”, could you tell us more about this relation and the current situation in the US? Could you point us to any relevant Open Data initiative that we might want to document?

Open Data depends on scientific fields. Indeed, Seattle was a rich environment on that topic, but this is certainly caused by the software culture in the city (Amazon, Microsoft, etc.) The Open Data topic is related to Big Data. Thus, the key domains are genetics, neuroscience, and health in general. Lot of projects are interesting. We already mentioned the Dataverse Network, but you may also enjoy the Delsa Global Project (interview with Eugene Kolker) or Sage Bionetwork.

7) There are a lot of sponsors supporting you. Was it easy to convince them? Is that how you finance 100% of the project or do you have others sources of income?

All the sponsors were done thanks to the crowdfunding campaign on KissKissBankBank. This is not a question of convincing them, they just demonstrated the need of covering the topic of Open Science in France. Their financial help represents 36% of the total amount collected.

Their were no other source of income. The travel was not expensive since Célya used the collaborative economy solutions (couchsurfing, carpooling, etc.)

8) Now the trip is over …. but HackYourPhd still running. How does it go on now?

We are pursuing the daily collaborative curation, with almost a thousand people on our Facebook group. We are also organizing several events, mainly in Paris but with a growing network with other cities and even countries. The community is self-organized but needs some structure. We are currently thinking about this specific issue and hope 2014 will be a great year for the project!

Merci à vous deux!

Mapping Open Data with CartoDB @ Madrid/New York, Spain/USA

logos_full_cartodb_lightIf you have been following Open Steps, you know that a great part of the project consists on running a workshop on Open Data visualisation in the different cities visited. In these sessions, after going through some theory, we get hands on and teach how geo-referenced datasets can be represented on a map. We wanted to teach an easy but powerful tool that could be used by everyone, so we chose CartoDB. And it was a good choice!

Greatly based on Open Source software, this online platform has been conceived to serve journalists, designers, scientists and a large etcetera in the task of creating beautiful and informative interactive maps. The developers behind the tool had Open Data in mind since the first days and fact is that importing and visualizing datasets couldn’t be easier and faster. In addition, great features such as dynamic visualizations, support for your favourite Open Data formats and the endless possibilities of its Javascript API allow beginners but also big organisations (NASA, The Guardian, National Geographic among others) to tell stories with numbers.

Andrew Hill, member of the team, took some time and answered our questions about the creation and philosophy of the tool, its Open Source core and the importance of Open Data for educational, scientific and social development. We invite you to find out more about CartoDB here:

1) Hi Andrew, can you introduce yourself briefly and explain us what CartoDB is?

Hi, I’m the senior scientist at Vizzuality and CartoDB. CartoDB is our online mapping platform that we built to let people make beautiful interactive maps easily.

2) Your company, Vizzuality, is based between Madrid and New York. What is the story behind its creation? Besides CartoDB, are you working on other products or have other activities?

Vizzuality was created by our co founders, Sergio Alvarez and Javier de la Torre, both from Madrid. Our first office was in Madrid where we started to grow the company. It wasn’t until a couple years later that Javier and I moved to New York to start the office here. The idea was just to grow and explore new collaborations.

Right now, our biggest focus by far is CartoDB. There is a lot of innovation around maps on the web right now and we are really enjoying contributing to it. CartoDB has become more than we could ever have imagined and now we can see so many ways to keep making it more incredible, so I’m sure we’re going to be focused on it for some time to come.

3) Let’s focus on CartoDB, since it is the tool we are teaching on our workshop. Who is currently using it? Journalists, designers, developers? Can you point us to remarkable projects making use of all the possibilities the tool has to offer?

Yeah, all of those people, plus students, governments, city planners, nonprofits, you name it 🙂

Sure, I think one of the best places to find recent examples is our blog or on Twitter. Some highlights include:

Twitter has been using us for a lot of quick visualizations

and many more…

4) CartoDB, as the rest of your products, is based on open source software and its code is released to the public domain. What is your motivation behind this decision? For your company and the development of your products, what is the impact of choosing an Open Source license?

We have always been committed open source. Largely it has to do with our background as a scientific company, working with and interacting with scientific research it seemed obvious to us that science benefits greatly from open source. Not only does it benefit from it, it almost seems irresponsible to do anything else.

With the importance of maps in society, I feel it also seems irresponsible to rely on black boxes for mapping. CartoDB doesn’t hide anything from you, it is there for you to criticize, improve or change as you need.

5) As we know, Open Source does not necessary exclude commercial products. What is the business-model for your products?

We offer a lot of incentives on top of our hosted service. Including our caching, backups, uptime, maintenance, upgrades, etc. With paid hosting plans you also get dedicated support and access to the foremost experts of CartoDB to help you become a better mapper, data visualization expert, or GIS expert on our platform. So there is a lot of benefits that using our hosted platform can bring to businesses and individuals and we are seeing already that businesses are being built around that, it feels great.

6) Let’s talk about the community around CartoDB. Do you receive feedback from users or from developers to improve the tool? How important is for an Open Source-based product to count with such contributions?

We have received a lot of feedback from our users including feature requests. We also do our best to contribute to the open source libraries that are used by CartoDB, so it is very much a community effort and that community is what makes it all possible for sure.

7) On our workshop, we teach how to import and visualise Open Data with CartoDB. Is the tool specially thought to be used with Open Data? In your opinion, why does Open Data and its visualisation matter?

We think about open data when developing CartoDB all the time. I wouldn’t say that is the sole target of our tool development, a lot of private companies are using CartoDB to analyse and map data that is part of a business offering, so not open. However, we think that visualizing open data can be a very powerful method of educating and demonstrating it’s contents and importance. The title of a recent article about some maps I created shows that I’m not alone in thinking that.

8) We recently saw that you have released great new features (dynamic visualisation, live data feeds,…). How do you set the priorities of the features you are developing? What are the next features you are working on? And in general, how does the future for CartoDB look like?

I’d say we balance three things as best we can when going for new features in CartoDB: what users express they want or need, what we see as improvements that can be made in performance, simplicity or design, and functionality that we see as innovations that we hope users will love 🙂

Thanks Andrew!