Columbia Journalism Review:”A See-Through Society”

Here’s a great article by Micah Sifry that has a pretty long take on Chicago Works For You:Columbia Journalism Review: A See-Through Societywww.cjr.org/feature/a_see-through_society.php?page=all

People are eager for access to information, and public officials who try to stand in the way will discover that the Internet responds to information suppression by routing around the problem. Consider the story of a site you’ve never seen, ChicagoWorksForYou.com. In June 2005, a team of Web developers working for the city of Chicago began developing a site that would take the fifty-five different kinds of service requests that flow into the city’s 311 database—items like pothole repairs, tree-trimming, garbage-can placement, building permits, and restaurant inspections—and enable users to search by address and “map what’s happening in your neighborhood.” The idea was to showcase city services at the local level.

ChicagoWorks was finished in January 2006, with the support of Mayor Richard Daley’s office. But it also needed to be reviewed by the city’s aldermen and, according to a source who worked on the project, “they were very impressed with its functionality, but they were shocked at the possibility that it would go public.” Elections were coming up, and even if the site showed 90 percent of potholes being filled within thirty days, the powers-that-be didn’t want the public to know about the last 10 percent. ChicagoWorksForYou.com was shelved.

King County Restaurant Inspection Fix

My investigations led to fixing an error in the publication of King County restaurant data.

I spoke with Hilary Karasz — her tech guy, Mark, fixed the error in the publication of their data.They are once again publishing violation information on their site.It also appears that they have gone back and re-published to records during the time period where violation data was missing.I think that the fix now on our end is to rescrape back to November 1 or so.

Some links for fact-checking:

* Here’s the TAQUERIA EL MAGUEY record that sparked our inquiry: http://www.decadeonline.com/insp.phtml?agency=skc&forceresults=1&record_id=PR0077496* It now has violation data in there– wasn’t there before, as reflected by our record of the inspection: http://seattle.everyblock.com/restaurant-inspections/by-date/2008/12/31/588057/* They fixed the system, and our scraper picked up the fix, as seen in this link from an inspection this week: http://seattle.everyblock.com/restaurant-inspections/by-date/2009/1/5/592332/

More backup info, below, but if we point our taser to the past, we should heal ourselves.

Yay!

———- Forwarded message ———-From: Daniel X. O’Neil <danx@everyblock.com>Date: Tue, Jul 29, 2008 at 1:09 PMSubject: EveryBlock Seattle and Restaurant Inspection DataTo: James Apa <james.apa@kingcounty.gov>, Matias Valenzuela <matias.valenzuela@kingcounty.gov>, Hilary Karasz <hilary.karasz@kingcounty.gov>

Hi all.My name is Dan O’Neil, and I’m working on a project called EveryBlock, a new Web site that pulls together local news and public information. The site gives the public easy ways of finding news and information that is geographically relevant to them. We’ve launched in five cities — Charlotte, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. I include links to more information about us below.I’m contacting your office because we’re working on a Seattle version of the site, and I’d like to get a feed of the data that King County presents via this Web-based lookup system: http://www.decadeonline.com/main.phtml?agency=skc. This is a great tool for the public, but we’re looking for a sustainable way to query the system (or get a report out of the system) that will give us only “New inspections” on a daily basis. Here are some examples from existing EveryBlock cities and the methods we use to obtain the data in each example:

As you can see, we can work with whatever format you have and pretty much any retrieval method that makes sense for you. If it is better for you that we obtain the records from the public system, that works for us. Let me know what you think — we’re looking forward to working with you!–Daniel X. O’Neil