Toronto Opens Government Data

The City of Toronto recently joined a growing fraternity of governments to release public data sets for developers and other interested parties to use to create interesting and useful mashups.

It’s gratifying to see more and more cities place an emphasis on releasing open data sets to the public. Toronto’s open data web site is still new, and while there aren’t a ton of data sets yet some of those that are available are very interesting.

One data set provides the location of licensed child care centers and provides information on the number of spaces available for children of different ages. Since I recently joined the ranks of child care consumers in my own city, I thought it would be interesting to build a small app that lets a person search for child care centers within a specific postal code.

The app is quite simple, and is still rough in many ways, but it was completed within several hours and demonstrates how governments that release interesting and valuable information empower developers to build useful things. All of the source code for the app is up on GitHub.

The app can (currently) be accessed in any one of three ways:

  • Jabber Instant Message client (you can use GTalk for this) – simply add childcareto@bot.im to your contacts list.
  • SMS – you can text a search request to (773) 273-9982.
  • Twitter – you can tweet a search request by sending a @reply to childcareto (e.g., @childcareto).

In order to use the app, you have to search using the 3 character forward sortation area (FSA) prefix from Toronto postal codes.

For example, if you send a tweet like this:

@childcareto M1N

You’ll get back the location of the first child care provider found, along with some instructions. If you send another tweet with the hashtag #next, you’ll get the next listing (if there is one). You can start a new search by simply tweeting #reset

Same thing works with a Jabber IM client or SMS – just send the 3 character FSA you want to search in the body to start the search, and then use #next or #reset as needed.

I’m admittadly a little ignorant about Canadian Postal Codes, so if anyone up north checks this out and thinks there is a better way to do it I would love to chat.

When I built this app I imagined someone who might be moving to a new job or a new house in Toronto, and being interested in nearby child care services. If you know the FSA of the new home or job location, its easy to do with this nifty little app.

While this first iteration is relatively simple, there are a lot of possibilities because the information in the data set is very compact. Compact data lends itself to a range of different user agents – I have phone enabled similar types of information on other projects and provided multilingual support. If there is any interest expressed in taking this farther, I may pursue other communication channels for this app.

Once again, hats off to the City of Toronto for making this data set (and others) available. Any feedback on this app is welcome.

2 comments

  1. Jacquelyn · November 5, 2009

    Hey, this is very cool! Good idea.

  2. Course · November 30, 2009

    Great article. Thank you

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