Interview with Diego May, co-founder of Junar @ Palo Alto, USA

Do you know what the Open Data platform maintained by the chilean government has in common with its analog from the city of Cupertino in the USA or the argentinian city of Bahia Blanca? Besides obviously hosting Open Data for users to download, they are all built with Junar.

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From governments, through NGOs to businesses, Junar offers those willing to share data a great technological solution with all the wished features.

In these 5 years since Junar was founded by Diego May and Javier Pajaro, the list of organisations using the Open Data platform (most of them from the public sector in USA and Latin America) has considerably grown. That makes Diego in the right position to tell us what are public administrations expecting from such a platform, what they want to achieve with it and the general awareness towards Open Data in Latin America. Get the details in the following interview:

1.­ Hola Diego. We already know you from the past Databootcamp in Montevideo but our readers might not. So, can you please introduce yourself and tell us what Junar is?

My name is Diego May, I am co-founder of Junar. My co-founder (Javier Pájaro, CTO) and I started this company 5 years ago as we saw how difficult it was for organizations and individuals to publish data into the web in such a way it could become easy to search and use.

We currently work mainly with government organizations in Latin America (Chile, Argentina, Mexico, Costa Rica, Perú) and in the US (City of Palo Alto, Cupertino, Sacramento and Pasadena to name a few).

We enjoy helping leaders in Government that see a future in which citizens are more engaged and in which government opens up valuable resources to get innovators outside governments help solve key challenges that governments face.

We have helped organizations in setting up their open data portals, their policies and programs, and in setting up successful hackathons that brought together innovators, developers, designers, citizens in general. The outcome of such events has been great and we are seeing how this innovations occurring are already helping citizens in their day-to-day as new and valuable applications become available.

2.­ We have been following worldwide the creation of new Open Data platforms, being launched by  different  actors  such  as  governments,  city  councils  or  international  organisations.  In  your opinion, what are the mandatory elements an Open Data platform should have?

It is important to mention that setting up an Open Data Platform is not the most complicated task in setting up a successful Open Data Program.

We believe that government officials have a lot of work already and engaging the different departments and groups as well as setting up a clear policy and communicating it to generate engagement is already a lot of work.

In order to really help these government leaders that are working to make governments more transparent, accountable, and innovative, Open Data Platform providers should:

ensure that it is really easy to set up the Open Data Portal. In our case we provide all in a SaaS delivery such that governments do not need to consider hardware or software complications.

make it easy for citizens to find and use data. We put a lot of effort in ensuring that citizens can easily navigate this open data portals to not only find what they need but also to make such data easy to manipulate and use by allowing its download in multiple formats, its insertion in spreadsheets, the possibility of embedding such data in blogs or websites, and very important we provide a very easy to use API that allows developers to transform this raw data into machine readable data that can now feed new and innovative civic apps.

make it easy for government staff to maintain the Open Data Portal. Setting up is only the beginning. Open Data programs evolve and usually consider an Open Data Roadmap. Staff (non-technical) should be able to update datasets, bring new datasets and create valuable data resources and visualizations. We work hard to ensure that this workspace for staff is simple yet powerful.

Finally, Open Data is evolving and standards are continually updated. Semantic web standards are shaping how data has to be published to the web. Open Data Platforms should ensure that while governments care about publishing valuable and always updated data, the outcome is expressed complying with Open Data standards.

3.­  We  see  that  most  of  your  clients  belong  to  the  public  sector.  What  do  in  general  public administration such as municipalities or governments wish from an Open Data platform? What do they want to accomplish by launching one?

We have seen an evolution in the intentions of Open Data Programs from local and federal governments as well as in specialized agencies. Here some of the goals that these organizations want to accomplish:

– Transparency and accountability. The Open Data Movement started very focused on bringing valuable data to allow citizens to better understand what is going on in Government, how resources are being allocated, how budgets are being spent, which specific projects are the top priority and how they are being executed.

– The right thing to do. A lot of government leaders today acknowledge that valuable datasets collected by governments have to be opened up to constituents. Those datasets are being gathered thanks to tax-payer money and as long as no privacy or security issues are compromised such data should be proactively opened up.

– Citizen engagement. Government leaders also understand that it is becoming more important to engage citizens at different levels. From journalists, to citizens doing day-to-day activities, to academics, and the private sector and developers. All want to engage more with governments and have the chance of now being more informed and contributing at different levels.

– Efficiencies and collaboration. We have heard several times how governments are facing shrinking budgets while their challenges are not being reduced. By opening up data governments are becoming more efficient both in how they interact and serve constituents as well as in how different departments can collaborate. We also see that government officials are finding (via Open Data) new ways of collaborating with the private sector.

– Innovation. As valuable data resources are being opened up and hackathons proliferate we see more apps being created. It might have been unthinkable some time ago to have the private sector so engaged in civic innovation, but the fact that now valuable resources are being opened up allows for new apps being created.

– Economic Development. Open Data Programs can certainly trigger economic development. We see new companies being created. We also see new services (data services) being provided to local companies. We see products and services companies that are improved by live and valuable data feeds. And we see new efficient ways of governments tackling key issues such as education, tourism, agriculture, housing. Successful Open Data Programs are taking into account Economic Development goals to define roadmaps of datasets that have to be opened up.

4.­ And what about the others? Is Junar also suitable for other kind of organisations such as private companies, NGOs, etc? Can you point us to any success case?

Yes, since the beginning we saw that the Open Data movement will trickle down to other sectors.

In this particular industry, Government has been the early adopter and it is expected a global impact of between 3 and 5 Trillion dollars from Government Open Data (McKinsey report).

But we are already seeing the interest from:

 – Media outlets, Newspapers. Data Journalism is a big trend. We see some newspapers such as the guardian, BBC, La Nacion in Argentina, and many others taking into account the value of data in Journalism 2.0.

 – NGOs, Associations, and Academia. Reporting results and ensuring that valuable research takes the form of Open Data so that research can be easily taken to the next phase is crucial. Reporting impact is also very important.

 – Private Sector. Open Data derives a new interesting concept: Data Philantrophy. Corporations have a lot of very valuable data that used well could help tackle key problems in modern society. We have powered hackathons of corporations that are clearly interested in offering some of these data for the public good. On a different note, corporations are (yet in few numbers) understanding the value of engaging with their stakeholders and specifically with their communities of users. Open Data is one of the venues they are exploring.

5.­  Let’s  talk  about  the  context  of  Open  Data  in  South  America:  How  would  you  describe  the general status? Are public administrations already convinced of the benefits of opening data? Was it necessary to  “persuade” your  clients before working with them, or were they fully committed beforehand? Is there a general awareness among citizens?

As in any new market there are early adopters that very quickly see the value and then there are others that need more proof of the results before deploying resources.

Latin America is no different to what we see in the US or Europe. We have found some leaders that understand the importance of this trend and the impact it is having in transparency, accountability and innovation. In those cases they just want to move fast and efficiently.

We are in conversations with lots of other clients that now are seeing the impact of what governments like Chile, Perú or Costa Rica have been doing. The great case of a city like Bahia Blanca in Argentina is permeating in other cities and together with the success in city of Mercedes this is starting to impact other clients.

Overall I see a great opportunity for Latin America to be a success story in this Open Data movement.

As for citizens, it varies but we see different groups of society getting more and more engaged as the Open Data movement evolves. It started with some NGOs focused on transparency, it then started moving to Academia, and it is now permeating into other segments of society.

6.­ was also built with Junar. This site aggregates datasets generated in  the  different  Latin American  countries.  What  are  the  requirements  for such  an  interregional initiative  to  succeed?  We  covered  a  similar case  from  South­East  Asia.  Do  you  think  such platforms will get more developed with the time? Can we see it as the next step once governments have their own national platform?

I see a lot of potential in ´aggregators´ and ´intermediaries´. As the Open Data movement evolves more and more cities and government agencies will come on board and will set up Open Data Portals. It makes a lot of sense to have organizations that group some of these data.

It will also make sense to have organizations adding value on top of open data and even measuring and certifying quality of government open data.

Open Data Latinoamerica serves the purpose of helping lots of data journalists that need to be able to compare data. It also serves developers that need data feeds from different countries. It probably also helps multilaterals and academic institutions that are better off going to one central location to find all the data they need.

7.­ As you know, we are also focusing our research on Open Source and when it comes to tools related to Open Data, the general tendency is to release their code to the public domain. Could you tell us the factors that made you not to choose an Open Source model for Junar? We can imagine, your  clients  considered  also  Open  Source  alternatives  before  choosing  your  product.  How  are public agencies facing the open versus commercial dilemma?

Let me start this answer by telling you WHY we do what we do and why we work so hard every day.

 – We believe in a world in which governments and other organizations are more open and with this openness then citizens engage more with their transparent governments, innovation is spurred and more and better civic apps improve live in cities.

 – How we do it? by providing the easiest to use, easiest to maintain, and the most friendly for citizens and governments open data platform in the market. We also work hard to ensure that we provide the lowest total cost of ownership. This means that if everything is taken into account (hardware, technical resources, sys admins, connectivity, load balancing, etc) we are by far the least expensive solution to deploy.

In order to fulfil this vision and belief we work hard in defining and evolving the platform that will allow Open Data penetration. Today we open the code to organizations that commit to help with development of new features and modules.

Regarding becoming a full open source solution when we started with Junar we assessed the two alternatives and we opted to focus on spending all the energies and resources we had in developing a top-notch full-featured Open Data Platform that was quickly including new features suggested by actual users.

It has worked well and all the clients we have appreciate all the effort we put into the platform to provide not only a well designed and easy to use product but also a very powerful data management engine that is provided in a SaaS model allowing cities to very efficiently (and at low cost) have the lowest total cost of ownership platform in the market.

If early on we had gone the open source route we would have spent a lot of energy and resources in:

 – Community building. It requires resources to build a real community of users all over the place that are synchronized and working towards improving a platform. There is no real community around any open data platform today. Even in the case of UK most of the development and resources come from the UK government. Most of the code is being generated by a small group.

 – Code documentation vs thriving platform. As the code becomes open source the requirement to spend time and resources in code documentation becomes more and more relevant. All the time spent in this documentation is time NOT spent in actually serving clients and creating new features. It is a trade-off.

We are continuously working with Governments and when we see their interest in adding development teams to help evolve the platform we open the code and we collaborate.

And with the right amount of resources we would seriously assess opening up the code to have a really thriving community interested in bringing open data to all the corners of the world.

ODDC / Open Data Research network @ Web Foundation, Washington DC, USA

ODDC_hi-resIt happened a few times along our journey that we met researchers participating in a project called ODDC: Exploring the Emerging Impacts of Open Data in Developing Countries. We wanted to know more about it by talking to Tim Davies, open data research coordinator at the Web Foundation which hosts the Open Data Research network, as a platform for the project.

Created few years ago, the Open Data Research network is a collaboration between the Web Foundation and the Canadian International Development Research Centre (IDRC). Its goals are to connect worldwide researchers working in the field of Open Data and to share results and methodologies, generating a rich documentation about this new field. A challenging initiative since Open Data, due to its novelty, is actually in need of academic literature.

Launched through a call of proposals mid 2012, the ODDC project counts today with researchers from 17 projects across 12 countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia who, after been selected, got funds allocated for the realisation of the programme. Being member of this international and multidisciplinary initiative consists both in reporting on the implementation of Open Data mechanisms (at national or local levels) and participating in regular online and face-to-face meet-ups. From the beginning, the funding has been limited for the length of the project (2013-2015) and the need to build a sustainable environment has always been considered. That’s why the Open Data Research network has worked all these years on strengtheningthe community and conceiving a valuable research methodology at the same time.

As Tim shared with us, ODDC soon reaches its next milestone where reports will be finished and the outcome synthesized. Also, this will be the time to think about how the gathered documentation can be exposed and to define future steps. There are already plenty of useful reports available on the website. We definitely invite you to have a look in the research list and experience the ongoing updates. Not to forget other interesting projects run by the Open Data Research network such as the Open Data Barometer.

“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!


LocalWiki: Collecting and sharing community knowledge @ San Francisco, USA

LocalWiki is a grassroots effort to collect, share and open the world’s local knowledge.” This is how the San Francisco based non-profit organisation defines its interesting initiative, and we absolutely wanted to cover it.

The idea consists on offering a platform that allows communities to collect and share local knowledge, all of this in a collaborative (crowdsourced) way. It all started with DavisWiki in 2004, a community-run wiki with contents about Davis town in California. Currently, LocalWiki counts worldwide with over 70 independent projects in 9 countries and in 7 languages.

As you can see in the following video, the tool is very easy to use and allows users to populate the knowledge database of their community in a quick and accurate way. Inserting text, links, pictures on pages and even on maps has never been so intuitive for a wiki platform and the revisioning system makes it really simple to discover what other users have modified.


Would you like to start a LocalWiki for your community? You can contact the team and they will assist you on the process. The technology is released as Open Source, meaning that you can take the code, use it and adapt if you feel like doing it.

The current state of the development already offers lots of useful functionalities. However, and since the platform is continuously being improved, some remarkable things are still to come. We recommend you to read their blog to discover more about their future plans.

We believe LocalWiki represents the principles behind Knowledge Sharing and the Open Source philosophy at its best and consider it a great piece of software that brings community members to work together. Fully support it!