Alex Howard

Alexander B. Howard is the Government 2.0 Washington Correspondent for O'Reilly Media, where he writes about the intersection of government, the Internet and society, including how technology is being used to help citizens, cities, and national governments solve large-scale problems. He is an authority on the use of collaborative technology in enterprises, social media and digital journalism. He has written and reported extensively on open innovation, open data, open source software and open government technology. He has contributed to the National Journal, Forbes, the Huffington Post, Govfresh, ReadWriteWeb, Mashable, CBS News' What's Trending, Govloop, Governing People, the Association for Computer Manufacturing and the Atlantic, amongst others. Prior to joining O’Reilly, Mr. Howard was the associate editor of SearchCompliance.com and WhatIs.com at TechTarget, where he wrote about how the laws and regulations that affect information technology are changing, spanning the issues of online identity, data protection, risk management, electronic privacy and cybersecurity. He is a graduate of Colby College in Waterville, Maine.

Open data economy: Eight business models for open data and insight from Deloitte UK

Two open data items of note from readers.

When I asked whether the push to free up government data was resulting in economic activity and startup creation, I started to receive emails from people around the United States and Europe. I’ll be publishing more of what I learned in our ongoing series of open data interviews and profiles over the next month, but two responses are worth sharing now.

Open questions about open growth

The first response concerned Deloitte’s ongoing research into open data in the United Kingdom [PDF], conducted in collaboration with the Open Data Institute.

Harvey Lewis, one of the primary investigators for the research project, recently wrote about some of Deloitte’s preliminary findings at the Open Government Partnership’s blog in a post on “open growth.” To date, Deloitte has not found the quantitative evidence the team needs to definitely demonstrate the economic value of open data. That said, the team found much of interest in the space: Read more…

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Making open data more valuable, one micropayment at a time

Yo Yoshida's startup, Appallicious, is using San Francisco's government data as a backbone.

When it comes to making sense of the open data economy, tracking cents is valuable. In San Francisco, where Mayor Ed Lee’s administration has reinvigorated city efforts to release open data for economic benefits, entrepreneur Yo Yoshida has made the City by the Bay’s government data central to his mobile ecommerce startup, Appallicious.

Appallicious is positioning its Skipitt mobile platform as a way for cities to easily process mobile transactions for their residents. The startup is generating revenue from each transaction the city takes with its platform using micropayments, a strategy that’s novel in the world of open data but has enabled Appallicious to make enough money to hire more employees and look to expand to other municipalities. I spoke to Yoshida last fall about his startup, what it’s like to go through city procurement, and whether he sees a market opportunity in more open government data.

Where did the idea for Appallicious come from?

Yo Yoshida: About three years ago, I was working on another platform with a friend that I met years ago, working on a company called Beaker. We discovered a number of problems. One of them was being able to find our way around San Francisco and not only get information, but be able to transact with different services and facilities, including going to a football game at the 49ers stadium. Why couldn’t we order a beer to our seats or order merchandise? Or find the food trucks that were sitting in some of the parks and then place an order from that?

So we were looking at what solutions were out there via mobile. We started exploring how to go about doing this. We looked first at the vendors and approaching them. That’s been done with a lot of other specific verticals. We started talking to the city a little bit. We looked at the open data legislation that was coming out at that time and said, “This is the information we need, but now we also need to be able to figure out how to monetize and populate that.” Read more…

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U.S. House makes legislative data more open to the people in XML

Opening data in Congress is a marathon, not a sprint. The 113th Congress is making notable, incremental progress on open government.

It was a good week for open government data in the United States Congress. On Tuesday, the Clerk of the House made House floor summaries available in bulk XML format. Yesterday, the House of Representatives announced that it will make all of its legislation available for bulk download in a machine-readable format, XML, in cooperation with the U.S. Government Printing Office. As Nick Judd observes at TechPresident, such data is catnip for developers. While full bulk data from THOMAS.gov is still not available, this incremental progress deserves mention.

Read more…

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Want to analyze performance data for accountability? Focus on quality first.

A data-driven investigation of emergency response times by the Los Angeles Data Desk found larger issues.

Here’s an ageless insight that will endure well beyond the “era of big data“: poor collection practices and aging IT will derail any institutional efforts to use data analysis to improve performance.

According to an investigation by the Los Angeles Times, poor record-keeping is holding back state government efforts to upgrade California’s 911 system. As with any database project, beware “garbage in, garbage out,” or “GIGO.”

As Ben Welsh and Robert J. Lopez reported for the L.A. Times in December, California’s Emergency Medical Services Authority has been working to centralize performance data since 2009.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to achieve data-driven improvements or manage against perceived issues by applying big data to the public sector if the data collection itself is flawed. The L.A. Times reported quality issues stemmed from how response times were measured to record keeping on paper to a failure to keep records at all. Read more…

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14 big trends to watch in 2013

From sensor journalism to lean government to preemptive health care, 2013 will be interesting.

2012 was a remarkable year for technology, government and society. In my 2012 year in review, I looked back at 10 trends that mattered. Below, I look ahead to the big ideas and technologies that will change the world, again. Read more…

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Big, open and more networked than ever: 10 trends from 2012

Social media, open source in government, open mapping and other trends that mattered this year.

In 2012, technology-accelerated change around the world was accelerated by the wave of social media, data and mobile devices. In this year in review, I look back at some of the stories that mattered here at Radar and look ahead to what’s in store for 2013.

Below, you’ll find 10 trends that held my interest in 2012. This is by no means a comprehensive account of “everything that mattered in the past year” — try The Economist’s account of the world in 2012 or The Atlantic’s 2012 in review or Popular Science’s “year in ideas” if you’re hungry for that perspective — but I hope you’ll find something new to think about as 2013 draws near. Read more…

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Six ways data journalism is making sense of the world, around the world

Early responses from our investigation into data-driven journalism had an international flavor.

When I wrote that Radar was investigating data journalism and asked for your favorite examples of good work, we heard back from around the world.

I received emails from Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Canada and Italy that featured data visualization, explored the role of data in government accountability, and shared how open data can revolutionize environmental reporting. A tweet pointed me to a talk about how R is being used in the newsroom. Another tweet linked to relevant interviews on social science and the media:

Two of the case studies focused on data visualization, an important practice that my colleague Julie Steele and other editors at O’Reilly Media have been exploring over the past several years.

Several other responses are featured at more length below. After you read through, make sure to also check out this terrific Ignite talk on data journalism recorded at this year’s Newsfoo in Arizona. Read more…

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DARPA and Defense Department look to a more open source future

Retired General James E. Cartwright says the future of warfare needs better human-machine interfaces and adaptable platforms.

As the United States military marches further into the age of networked warfare, data networks and the mobile platforms to distribute and access them will become even more important.

Open Source Uncle SamThis fall, the (retired) eighth Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff described a potential future of the military that’s founded not only in open source thinking, but in next-generation user interfaces and biohacking straight out of science fiction. If even some of the strategic thinking he described at this year’s Military Open Source Conference in D.C. is applied to how the technology that supports the next generation of war fighters is built, dramatic evolutionary changes could cascade down the entire supply chain of one of the world’s biggest organizations.

In his remarks, James E. “Hoss” Cartwright, a four-star general who retired from the United States Marine Corps in August 2011, outlined a strategic need to make military technology more modular, based upon open standards and adaptable on the battlegrounds of the future.

Cartwright, the first holder of the Harold Brown Chair in Defense Policy Studies for the Center for Strategic & International Studies, a member of the Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee, and an adviser to several corporate entities in the defense industry, is well placed to have an informed and influential opinion.

Over the course of his talk at the Military Open Source Conference, Cartwright outlined how open source software models could be applied to hardware, making vehicles into adaptable platforms for different missions, not vertically integrated programs that can take a decade or longer to design, build or change. Read more…

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Making dollars and sense of the open data economy

Is the push to free up government data resulting in economic activity and startup creation?

Open dataOver the past several years, I’ve been writing about how government data is moving into the marketplaces, underpinning ideas, products and services. Open government data and application programming interfaces to distribute it, more commonly known as APIs, increasingly look like fundamental public infrastructure for digital government in the 21st century.

What I’m looking for now is more examples of startups and businesses that have been created using open data or that would not be able to continue operations without it. If big data is a strategic resource, it’s important to understand how and where organizations are using it for public good, civic utility and economic benefit.

Sometimes government data has been proactively released, like the federal government’s work to revolutionize the health care industry by making health data as useful as weather data or New York City’s approach to becoming a data platform.

In other cases, startups like Panjiva or BrightScope have liberated government data through Freedom of Information Act requests and automated means. By doing so, they’ve helped the American people and global customers understand the supply chain, the fees associated with 401(k) plans and the history of financial advisors.

I’ve hypothesized that open data will have an overall effect on the economy akin to that of open source and small business. Gartner’s research has posited that open data creates value in the public and private sector. If government acts as a platform to enable people inside and outside government to innovate on top of it, what are the outcomes? Read more…

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Panjiva uses government data to build a global search engine for commerce

Successful startups look to solve a problem first, then look for the datasets they need.

“If you go back to how we got started,” mused Josh Green, “government data really is at the heart of that story.” Green, who co-founded Panjiva with Jim Psota in 2006, was demonstrating the newest version of Panjiva.com to me over the web, thinking back to the startup’s origins in Cambridge, Mass.

At first blush, the search engine for products, suppliers and shipping services didn’t have a clear connection to the open data movement I’d been chronicling over the past several years. His account of the back story of the startup is a case study that aspiring civic entrepreneurs, Congress and the White House should take to heart.

“I think there are a lot of entrepreneurs who start with datasets,” said Green, “but it’s hard to start with datasets and build business. You’re better off starting with a problem that needs to be solved and then going hunting for the data that will solve it. That’s the experience I had.”

The problem that the founders of Panjiva wanted to help address was one that many other entrepreneurs face: how do you connect with companies in far away places? Green came to the realization that a better solution was needed in the same way that many people who come up with an innovative idea do: he had a frustrating experience and wanted to scratch his own itch. When he was working at an electronics company earlier in his career, his boss asked him to find a supplier they could do business with in China.

“I thought I could do that, but I was stunned by the lack of reliable information,” said Green. “At that moment, I realized we were talking about a problem that should be solvable. At a time when people are interested in doing business globally, there should be reliable sources of information. So, let’s build that.”

Today, Panjiva has created a higher tech way to find overseas suppliers. The way they built it, however, deserves more attention.

Read more…

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