These iCalendar feeds were Shawn’s contribution to the Open Data Ottawa Hackfest. In a letter to the city councillors Shawn writes:
If you are not yet familiar with the topic of Open Data, the basic idea is that information should be made available in standard formats that can be read by a variety of computer programs. This data should be available for use by the public, without restrictions.
For example, the City currently publishes its Garbage Collection Calendar as a PDF file on its website. Although PDF files are a popular format in which to present data, they are not open. All you can do with a PDF-based calendar is look at it, or print it.
An open version of this same calendar would be, in its simplest form, a list of dates on which garbage collection would occur and which types of garbage and recycling are collected on those dates. Although not as visually appealing as the current PDF calendar, this list of dates can be read by many different pieces of software to provide value-added services such as sending reminders to your cell phone or e-mail address the night your recycling should be put out, or adding the collection schedule to your calendar software of choice.
It’s great to see these kinds of things happening. But we shouldn’t depend on inspired citizen activism to make them happen. The publication of data is a routine act that will increasingly be performed by individuals, groups, non-profit and for-profit organizations, governments. The default setting, in almost all cases, involves publishing that data in formats that people can read but that machines can’t. We’ve got to flip the default setting. Publication of machine-readable formats along with human-readable formats has to be the new default.
In my own town, Keene, NH, I’m delighted to be able to point to an example. Last year, the schedule for hazardous household waste collection was only available as a PDF file. But now it’s in iCalendar. The next collection date shows up on the combined calendar: Saturday, May 8. It got there by way of the city’s calendar which is available both as a human-readable HTML page and an iCalendar feed available for syndication. So simple, so useful.