PatinerMontreal.ca is a new website build on civic data. The city publishes the state of the outdoor hockey rinks every day in PDF format – not very practical! These PDFs are difficult to navigate and do not include the location of the rinks. Montreal is Hockey. So, James McKinney decided to build a killer civic data app that displays the location, state and condition of all the outdoor hockey rinks in Montreal. Dan Mireault completed the design and we are please to present this interview with James and Dan.
Hi James, how did this project come about?
I heard about Montréal Ouvert in August but was out of town for the first meeting. I met with Jonathan Brun in September about how to get involved, and he proposed the Patiner Montréal project as a way to promote open data in Montreal. I wrote the application in my spare time in the following months.
Where are you getting your data from? How often do you refresh it?
The city provides data on the conditions (here) and locations (here) of rinks. I currently set the conditions data to be refreshed once a day. I may adjust the refresh rate once the city starts updating the data after the rinks open.
If you had a comment about the quality, timeliness or accessibility of the data, what would it be?
The data is not accessible in a machine-readable format. The conditions data is in PDFs, which are difficult to scrape. If the layout of the PDFs were to change, my scripts would fail to correctly scrape the data. The locations data is written in poorly-formatted HTML, making it especially difficult to scrape; thankfully, I only need to scrape that data once. I’ll be able to answer about quality and timeliness once the rinks open!
What should the city be doing differently to encourage people to use the rinks and better inform the public on their state?
As far as online actions go, the city should publish its data in an open format so that citizens can use it to build applications as they see fit. Even if the city had the budget for it, I don’t think the city should be spending money building applications itself; it’s best to make the data available for others to use. Offline, there are a lot of things the city could do, but that’s another story.
Any more features planned for a future release?
There are more potential – especially social – features than I have time for, so you’ll have to wait and see! If you are a developer and want to contribute to the project, the code for the app is on GitHub (here). I’ve made the conditions and locations data available through an API (here), so that others can build their own apps. I know there is an Android app under development that looks very promising! If anyone is looking to get involved, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
@Dan Mireault Your design uses different shapes and colours, why?
Primarily, to better differentiate the types of rinks and their location. The colour allows the user to quickly see the type of the rink. However, it is not visible to the colour blind. By also using different shapes we create a visual contrast that all Montrealers can distinguish. Accessibility is an important part of open-data and as such, we made sure to include it in our design.