Show us a better way: mashups can make a difference

A Paul Bradshaw Tweet caught my eye today – about show us a better way.

Here’s what it’s all about:

The UK Government wants to hear your ideas for new products that could improve the way public information is communicated. The Power of Information Taskforce is running a competition on the Government’s behalf, and we have a £20,000 prize fund to develop the best ideas to the next level.

So, finding myself with a spare hour tonight, I donned my thinking slippers and fez, and came up with some of my own suggestions:

  • Public transport mapping: lets say goodbye to these visually noisy and counter intuitive conceptual public transport maps, and hello to bus routes mapped onto roads. Of course this isn’t particularly revolutionary, they already have it via Google Transit over the pond. Still, factor in all that useful Journey Planner info that’s already available (take London for example), and it could be updated in real-time.
  • A past, present and future roadworks map: It’s all well and good providing maps of current and planned roadworks (some local authorities are already doing this – see Worcestershire County Council). But what about those of us who walk past the diggers and drills every morning with a grim sense of de ja vu (that includes anyone with the gross misfortune of having to walk up Wood Lane every bastarding day). When was the road last dug, and how long was the road in question due to last, according to contractual agreements between the authority in question and contractors? My dad is a retired civil engineer, and some of the stories he’s told me over the years about corner-cutting right the way back to the 50s are well worthy of investigation.
  • A comprehensive map of digital divide: if you took all the information out there on PC ownership, time spent online, broadband coverage, Wifi spots, and every other online-related stat out there, and pipe them into a map, we can once and for all, get a comprehensive insight into the ‘digital divided’ across the UK, and beyond.
  • Map of UK dialects: At the BBC we have a couple of linguists, and an online synthesizer which talks presenters through the niceties of newsworthy proper nouns. But what if we took data from university studies into dialects (something a lot farther-reaching than this British Library example), and put them through a synthesizer-map mashup? This could take on a whole life of its own, if the public were encouraged to record and broadcast their living dialects via Youtube. I’m not sure what practical application it might have, but it would certainly help folk brush up on their character-based joke-telling down the pub.
  • A seasonal worldwide map of food imports into the UK: using data from Revenue and Customs (on imports) and the Food Standards Agency (on food labeling) it should be possible to mash up a global map, searchable month on month, of food imports coming into this country. Factor in more data from the EU on farm subsidies, and we’ll get a visual insight not only into how our taxes are being spent, but also the extent to which the developing world is faring, and the extent to which produce in the UK is under competition from cheap imports in season.
  • Map of UFO spottings: this one’s for the crazies. Lets pull together all reportings of UFOs, from drunken ramblings to local constabularies, right the way up to contents of wax-sealed envelopes circulating amongst MI5 mandarins. This will for once and for all establish which region any self-respecting cult who fancy a pop at converting the UK should start with.

It took longer to type up and find links for these ideas than it did coming up with them in the first place, so I for one am looking forward to some serious thinkers with proper ideas coming forward and making use of this initiative to seriously benefit us all…

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4 Responses to “Show us a better way: mashups can make a difference”

  1. paulbradshaw Says:

    Some great ideas and you’re probably one of the few people who could make one work. Looking forward to having a proper look at this site and its potential.

  2. Could this be the tipping point for UK data mashups? | Online Journalism Blog Says:

    […] back to that new website. Murray Dick has already come up with some stonking ideas, and I would suggest every journalist in the country with any interest in the future of journalism […]

  3. BuzzMachine » Blog Archive » Data are news Says:

    […] to mashup this data and come out with lots of lemonade. Here’s Paul Bradshaw on the movement. Here are some — as a Brit tweet said — stonking good ideas […]

  4. slewfootsnoop Says:

    Cheers Paul, like you say on the OJB post – its very much a matter of use it or lose it, and FOI doesn’t seem to be getting any easier these days…

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