Digital Odyssey 2015 attracted a small but enthusiastic group of individuals interested in this year’s theme of Open Data, Open Heritage. The event (June 12, 2015) was held at George Brown’s new Waterfront Campus just east of Sugar Beach in Toronto. These notes are from the sessions I attended at Digital Odyssey. There were additional concurrent sessions which are summarized in the session descriptions on the OLA web site.
Storytelling From Space
The keynote speaker was Aurelia Moser of CartoDB (previously of Ushahidi and a Mozilla Fellow). Her talk entitled “Storytelling from Space” was illustrated with images from mapping projects that use a wide variety of open and crowd-sourced data. Many of these maps show changes in landscapes over time – disappearing lakes and forest-cover, changes brought about by natural disasters – earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanoes, changes in conversations on Twitter by location , etc.
Moser’s current employer, CartoDB, offers many tools and resources that enable citizen cartography by allowing users to manage, import, and query their data to create customized maps. CartoDb offers:
- software for creating maps
- open datasets (including hi-resolution satellite imagery)
Chicago Snowplow Heatmap
Moser used one of the CartoDB projects to illustrate the need to understand your data. It is easy to make false assumptions based on what you are seeing. A heat map created from GPS data sent from snow plows in Chicago seems to indicate that one section of the city receives frequent and excessive service. This is not the case as that hot spot is merely the snow plow parking lot where the plows began and ended their shifts.
Another challenging project that Moser told us about was mapping water availability data from Tanzania gathered over decades by many different people in many different formats. Results of this project can be seen at the Vital Signs Water Availability website.
Of the other many interesting projects Moser mentioned in her talk, here are a few that I’d like to look at further:
- Global Forest Watch, an interactive map featuring forest cover change, land use, biodiversity hot spots and user stories
- Fires in the Amazon, a time-lapse map of fires in the Amazon 2012-2014
- Illustreets – An interactive map of England showing detailed information about the standard of living, crime, house prices, and schools for any location
Creating and Collecting Open Cultural Heritage Collections
This session was lead by Loren Fantin and Jess Posgate of OurOntario, a partnership of Ontario cultural and heritage organizations created to make Ontario digital content discoverable by a global audience. They gave a good overview of what is involved in creating and maintaining cultural heritage collections and discussed what is possible, how to create value with a focus on moving beyond the search box and creating once but publishing multiple times. They also talked about the challenges: messiness of metadata, migration difficulties, practical and philosophical issues of crowdsourcing and issues of licensing.
Several interesting projects (in addition to OurOntario) that make use of open heritage objects were mentioned in the course of this presentation. This is a sampling of just a few of them:
Europeana’s Vango Yourself is a site that lets you recreate a painting with your friends and then share the results on social media and with the Vango site. It promotes re-use of cultural heritage and allows you to look at art in a completely different way.
What’s on the Menu
What’s on the Menu is NYPL Lab’s crowd-sourcing project to transcribe historical restaurant menus dish-by-dish so that they can be found by anyone searching on the web. You can help by reviewing transcriptions of menus.
Culture Cam is another Europeana offering. It is a webcam-based similarity search tool that lets designers, artists and any creative person explore the images on Eurpeana in a new way. You take a photo of an object, texture or colour with your webcam and then Culture Cam will return a selection of related images from its database. All images in Culture Cam are under Public Domain or have no known copyright so can be used for derivative designs.
The Powerhouse Museum (Sydney Australia) is making its collection dataset available in a variety of forms. In addition to traditional two-dimensional images, the Powerhouse is making available 3D files that you can download and print.
Consuming and Transforming Open Data
In the afternoon, Mita Williams of the University of Windsor led a hands-on session on using open data and free online mapping tools. The first challenge was to map all of the branches of the Toronto Public Library on a map. This could be done painstakingly by hand, but we started with a file of data made available the City of Toronto with geographic information about the branches of the Toronto Public Library. Using one of several tools, Google Maps, CartoDb or MapBox, this data was then added to a map.
This is the map Chris Rumas of Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and I created using Google Maps:
The second part of the workshop was to create a time-lapse map of the building of the Toronto Public Library branches by their dates of creation. Since the first data file did not contain any dates, we needed to combine it with a second file from Wikipedia which did have the dates. Once the data was merged it was then imported into CartoDB to create a torque map to show the time-lapse of the buildings of the Toronto Public Library system. Some tweaking of the data was required (more refinement is still necessary), but a map was eventually created.
Time-Lapse of the Building of the Toronto Public Library Branches
If you want to try this project yourself, Mita’s files are available on GitHub and there is a google doc with additional information for creating these maps.
The day concluded with several lightning talks on a wide variety of topics. Alan Harnum, soon to be of OCADU, gave entertaining and illustrated talk on Barriers to Open Data in Libraryland. Ab Velasco and Jeffrey Toste introduced an upcoming hackathon to be held at TPL in November. Dan Scott gave a short presentation on creating a linked data bibliography on Canadian Labour Studies using Zotero. Sarah Simpkin discussed a recent Omeka Project and Mita Williams told us about the inclusive week-long PressPlay hackathon held by Hack Forge earlier this year.