Open Data Hong Kong

Lately I’ve been involved in a newly-started but energetic community here in Hong Kong, which connects enthusiasts from different disciplines to collaboratively push forward the open data development in this city. As a professional in data journalism and a citizen caring about transparency of information, I am very thrilled to be part of this group.

So far, they’ve set up an Open Data Hong Kong website, held a Catalyst Night (May 14) where people brainstormed and formed up project ideas, a hackathon-ish weekend (May 18-19) where teams worked on ideas developed from the Catalyst Night, and most recently, a Meet.03 evening (June 6) for further presentation, discussion, and networking. I am not too late to this party. I started my journey with this community from the Catalyst Night, and been actively since.

Open Data Hong Kong Hackathon, May 18-19, 2013. Credit: ODHK

The two evangelists of this group, Mart van de Ven and Bastien Wai-Chung, met each other at BarCamp 2013 (Feb 23), and decided to do something. (Hey, I was there at the BarCamp too, and I was even at one of the Open Data discussions, how come I missed you two?) A Google Plus page was set up right after on Feb 25 where vibrant discussions and plannings take place until now.

Bill Proudfit, another leading evangelist of the group, who also attended BarCamp, documented one of the open data discussion back then, in which he also describes briefly the status quo of the open data in HK.

The last topic was Open Data in Hong Kong. The HK government has had the Data.One initiative since 2011 to make datasets available to the public for no cost.

First, a developer presented his open source application using the HK Observatory (HKO) data. He hadn’t used the datasets available from Data.One for two reasons. First, he didn’t know the HKO dataset was available and second when he did find out about the dataset it was only a simple RSS text file and was not useful. Instead, he simply captured (scraped) the data from the websites maintained by the HKO.

Next, someone talked about the Data.One initiative, the background and what was now happening. The gist of it seems to be that the government wants to make datasets available but not much effort if being made to coordinate what, why, how and who. Departmental Administrative Officers (AO) makes the datasets available based on their personal networks. The AO is an important person in the HK government structure but he/she is frequently very over-worked and normally has limited technical IT skills or knowledge. These AO’s have networks inside the government and they use for all sorts of activities. There is nothing wrong with this approach but the Data.One datasets are rather hit and miss.

The last person talked about the context of Open Data initiatives in the EU and elsewhere. She said that the most active Open Data initiatives were in Berlin, London and New York. The big question is how to have more knowledge about the datasets and more use of them for application development.

After these talks a Google+ group, Open Data Hong Kong, was setup. Hopefully, this may become a platform to promote these Data.One datasets.

Bill has also blogged about the Catalyst Night and the hackathon. He and I worked together on the Data.One analysis project: we looked at 19 PSI Open Data sites from around the world (to name a few: U.K, Australia, Helsinki, Kenya, taken from this list: Global PSI Data Catalogues), evaluated the Data.One site from UI, UX, and dataset perspective, and finally made specific recommendations. The final deliverable is available at Data.One Analysis Summary & Report, which Bill also sent to the HK Government’s OGCIO PSI (Office of the Chief Information Officer – Public Sector Information) team which maintains the Data.One website and Charles Mok, IT Sector, Legislative Councillor.

The latest Meet.03 evening carries the community further – it was an intensive three hours with around 30 people (mostly boys, I have to complain), and beer, of course. A few presentations, some updates on hackathon projects, discussion ideas pitching, and two rounds of small group discussions (each 20 minutes). I had the chance to lead a table talking about Hacks/Hackers, which is a niche community that brings together developers and journalists to exchange skills and ideas. I had a dozen participants on my table, a good mix of developers and reporters already. The next step would be sending out applications to the H/H and to set up a HK chapter officially. (By the way, a good story here How the Global Open Data Movement is Transforming Journalism explains the relationship between open data and journalism)

Hacks/Hackers

Hacks/Hackers table discussion, ODHK Meet.04, June 06, 2013

I have to admit that I am still in the middle of reading and understanding all the philosophy and debates behind the Open Data concept as well as the movement. But I believe there is always value in better access to information, which will empower the community. Most active initiatives so far have been happening in the U.S. and Europe but it is a great pleasure to see Hong Kong catching up, after Taiwan.

The ODHK group is active on social media (yet to figure out a consistent and long-term plan on that end though, which I will be helping). Most discussions and plannings are on  Google Plus (where I am the first 100 members – to be accurate, the #98). You may sign up for the mailing list if you just need to stay informed, or to join the Facebook group if you want to know the people behind the scenes. Hope to see you at the next event. The more the merrier.

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