Gone But Not Forgotten

Hello, you've landed on DATA eh? - Open Data Toronto's original blog space for data discussions. This is not an active blog at the moment but legacy posts are still here. Have a read ... you can still provide comments.

Monday, April 26, 2010


NOTE: This is content from the web re:Brand posts going back to November 2010. We have kept the re:Brand posts as a legacy archive but, on a go forward basis as of October, 2011, the new DATA eh? content takes over this space.

This is segmented part 4 of the Lucky 7 ... the major areas we intend to address for improving toronto.ca.

Timely updates are really important.

Some user comments:
“It has become apparent to me that people do not trust the website/ or do not understand it. If they did we would not get lots of calls asking questions like: 'I just want to check if what I read was correct'"
 “Have a news section on the homepage to highlight current, important events. Update it daily. Have strict parameters that outline what can and cannot be posted.”
 “Cue groups or divisions to remove old information so that you don't run across a page that's from 2000 that hasn't been updated and has old, inaccurate information.”
This is tied into providing timely updates, archiving and removing old content,providing better content delivery and, even using multi media better. We also are being asked to provide more advice and suggestions to users - career development and better citizenship.

Tell us what you think ...

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Pat said...

Bylaws, not to mention meeting agendas/minutes, should be stored as linked data as much as possible. Somewhat tangential, but is there any sort of XML schema for municipal bylaws that could be adopted, a la the UK's Crown XML Schema for Legislation (http://www.opsi.gov.uk/legislation/schema/). I ask because standard schemas would allow Toronto to develop for itself, but then share the fruits of its labours with smaller municipalities, and that can only be good! It seems e-Laws must have a schema, but I haven't found it published anywhere, which seems to be just asking for others to waste development resources...

Anyhow, I'm getting ahead of myself: Back on topic, I'm just thinking that it would be a dream if the data were linked, as it's currently very hard to navigate between the hundreds of self-referential unlinked PDF's. It seems that many agenda items and bylaws are rife for geotagging with points or polygonal regions, and if these datasets were organized and released, then I can think of some crazy applications for those who wanted to dig in: Think totally new ways of notifying citizens about city hall decisions that affect the areas they pass through every day, or the issues they care about.

Or how about this: Countless interested citizens read and are directly affected by municipal legislation, and they're all converging on those common pages. They all have opinions they'd be itching to share with one another, so why do we keep them from interacting and providing opinions. Is the city website too pure and orderly to support that discussion? If so, could there be a toggling layer that allowed for it? And if this is all beyond the scope of what they're willing to tackle, could this be hosted by an interested third-party through the release of public datasets?

Anyhow, not sure how the beaurocracy works (and therefore, how impossible these reveries are), but this stuff gets me excited! :)

Keith from the TO web re:Brand team said...

Note to @Pat re: your recent message to us - please e-mail me for discussion around that - we have limitations on interactions with suppliers - you can get to me at: towebrebrand@gmail.com

danielmeboy said...

Hi Keith,
Just stumbled upon the blog, and this post gave me a suggestion I'd like your take on: a unobtrusive, clearly designed news ticker, preferably as a sidebar. It can take the part od a token element to the City sites, providing up-to-date news and tidbits of each area of the site. For instance, neighbourhood ticker w/tweets from the ward councillor, traffic delays, construction/local transit/repair status upfated, and the sort) I can picture it as an essential module providing relevant, up to date info tailoring to the needs and interests of the site visitor. Once the residents have a central point to find custom-tailored relevant resources for their problems (like a ward site, under the consistent Toronto layout), it can satisfy us all.

Keith from the TO web re:Brand team said...

@damielmeboy We've been thinking for some time of presenting pretty much the same things as you suggest. We need to showcase each neighbourhood (they deserve their own space). We're likely to offer this as filter for when you are looking for things like Rec Centres, programs, parks, events, etc.

Users would be able to find the information in two places: at the neighbourhood profile and at the Rec pages (and others) too.

The only thing we are not too sure of is whether users would know their neighbourhood well enough to know what to look for. Let me ask, from your viewpoint, would you have any issues identifying content to your local neighbourhood? Is that the best term for us to use?

We're not sure we would implement a ticker across the site but there will be loads of RSS feeds available that will make it easier to get updates. This would include custom built RSS feeds.

We will be demoing some of this in a labs space at some point (we're just discussing launch dates around that).

danielmeboy said...

Hi Keith,

I think there can be issues identifying various aspects in ones neighborhood. There are countless people who, I'm sure, aren't familiar with all corners and places outside of their close proximity. What I'm suggesting is that one should be able to customize their preferred topics on the neighbourhood page, even without RSS, which, I feel shouldn't be the limited way to subscribe to. What do you think? Each unique neighbourhood may also like an area to voice issues themselves, like community groups, announcements about activities, etc...

Keith from the TO web re:Brand team said...

@danielmeboy - indeed that is something we may be able to deliver - we've been talking about community blogs as a matter of fact. There are privacy issues around it that we need to resolve but the concept is something we like very much. We're also looking at a "My Toronto" area where users can enter and house their interactions with the City such as Rec program registrations, cat or dog licenses and the like. In this place, users would have opportunities to select specific content from the web pages and have it rendered inside their account space. This would be in addition to RSS options.

So, we are hoping very much to make the options for users way more flexible. Talk this up with your friends - it would be great to have more dialogue about this. The more support from users the more likely we can push to implement. That's one of the reasons for this blog.

Patrick Connolly said...

As opposed to community blogs that require designated posters with site logins (which might be perceived as an obstacle), would it be an option to aggregate specifically-tagged posts from various approved blogs?

This is done here as well:

The idea is that bloggers (whether it's local organizations or engaged citizens or city workers) could apply to be a community contributor, providing their blog or rss link. (This would obviously be subject to approval.) When publishing a relevant article on their own site, they would add a designated tag, say "toronto-web". This would flag it for the city's aggregator, so when it spiders the blog, this article is imported for syndication.

Obviously, there could be a means to flag posts that seem out-of-place or inappropriate, but assuming that the blog has been vetoed and the expectation communicated to the contributor, this likely wouldn't be such a problem.

It seems that this would lower the barrier to participation. People who blog like to network, and a city website wants to be known as a hub, so everybody wins. There's less onus on the contributors to create new habits in order to provide content, and that's also a plus for participation. :)

Any thoughts?

Keith from the TO web re:Brand team said...

@Patrick The idea is a good one (I think) if there is agreement that this networking is what is wanted from both sides. It may be five to ten years off from such a dynamic though - I mean where the opportunity is really supported in more places than just toronto.ca.

We are talking about that kind of interaction but we are also finding that there are barriers to just simply making it happen. I raise privacy laws again here. Even though the writers do support an overt exposure of who they are, some of the legal rights for us to expose them are not so straight forward. What you would see in such a process are interim interfaces that warn, alert and term of reference the user to death in legal disclaimers and helpful advice. Many people would say the user just ignores these and jumps in and maybe they do but even that is an issue since we'd have to have some legal evidence that the user agreed and really understood everything. That's not an exaggeration. However we are bringing up the need for back and forth interaction all the time and definitely looking at ways to marry legal obligations with dialogue opportunities.