Technically Philly: GitHub an Ideal Platform for City’s Open Data

CIty of Philadelphia Chief Data Officer Mark Headd's user profile page on GitHub shows basic biographical info, organizations he is a member of, some popular repositories he owns, some repositories he contributes to and information about his contributions.
CIty of Philadelphia Chief Data Officer Mark Headd's user profile page on GitHub shows basic biographical info, organizations he is a member of, some popular repositories he owns, some repositories he contributes to and information about his contributions.

Since he took up the position of the City of Philadelphia’s chief data officer in late 2012, Mark Headd has pushed for the city to release its data on GitHub, the popular software sharing and collaboration platform. GitHub has become home base for the city’s open data initiative.

Many of the City’s public GitHub repositories contain releases of data from several different city departments, addressing diverse topics including real estate tax under the Actual Value Initiative (AVI), polling locations and police complaints.

The "founding father" themed Octocat, GitHub's many-costumed mascot, is often used to symbolize open data and civic hacking. "Founding Father v2" graphic created by GitHub designer James Kang.
The “founding father” themed Octocat, GitHub’s many-costumed mascot, is often used to symbolize open data and civic hacking. “Founding Father v2” graphic created by GitHub designer James Kang.

The open data initiative’s primary audience is Philadelphia’s developer and civic hacking communities. Web software companies like Jarvus and civic hacking organizations like Code For Philly build creative applications of the city’s data. The general public most often consumes the city’s data through one of these third-party apps.

There’s no precise way of determining whether visitors are dreaming up software or whether they’re just trying to obtain information. But GitHub recently introduced traffic analytics for tracking a repository’s referring sites and its popular content.

Headd was uncertain about whether the City should collect more detailed information if it could.

“We want to know who’s using our data and how they’re using it,” he said, “because it helps us make the data better and helps us make the case that more data should be released. But at the same time we want to be mindful that we don’t want to appear to be too Big Brother-ish.”

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