Launch: OpenGrid at the UIC Electronic Visualization Laboratory

Today I helped launch OpenGrid— a free, browser-based, open source mapping platform displaying Chicago’s robust collection of open datasets.

Daniel X. O'Neil at UIC EVL. Photo by Lance Long, UIC/EVL

Here’s a set of photos I took:

My role was to take part in the conceptual model of OpenGrid, working with City technology officials to plan the work, and help manage the work of the Smart Chicago tech consultant, Uturn Data Solutions.

Here’s a snip from the launch coverage in the Harvard Data-Smart City Solutions piece on the launch:

“A collaborative union between developers, residents, and government – that’s what Smart Chicago is about, and that’s what OpenGrid is about too,” O’Neil noted at the application’s launch. “This is why we’re on it.”  To build the service layer, Smart Chicago commissioned UTurn Data Solutions, a local IT consultancy focused data storage and Cloud computing projects.

Chicago Tech Plan 18 Month Update

Today the City of Chicago Chief Information Officer Brenna Berman announced an 18-month update to Chicago’s Tech Plan.


The work of Smart Chicago is deeply represented in this Tech Plan. Here’s an excerpt from the Smart Chicago blog post about the plan:

Civic Innovation

A big part of the city’s strategy around civic innovation is supporting the work of civic technologists here in Chicago. As part of the Tech Plan, Smart Chicago will continue to provide resources to civic technologists like developer resourcesuser testing, and financial support to civic technology projects.

The Tech Plan also calls out our work with the Chicago School of Data. The two day experience was wholly based on the feedback we received from dozens of surveys, months of interviews, and a huge amount of research into the work being done with data in the service of people. If you missed the conference, here are some of the key takeaways.

The Civic User Testing Group also plays a part in the Tech Plan and has recently been expanded to include all of Cook County.

Chicago Chief Information Officer Brenna Berman stated that Chicago has the strongest civic innovation community in the country. A large part of that community has been the Chi Hack Night, now in it’s fourth year with attendance now reaching over 100 people regularly.

Here’s the update in full.

News: Foodborne Chicago Turns One

Nice ref here: One Year After Launch, Foodborne Chicago Continues to Enhance Food Safety
City’s online food reporting app turns one

Foodborne Chicago identifies public tweets from residents and visitors about food poisoning, then replies privately, providing assistance for the individual to file an online complaint through 311. An alert is then sent automatically to CDPH’s Food Protection Program, which investigates the complaint and updates any actions through Chicago’s 311 Service Tracker.

Last year, Foodborne Chicago classified over 2,600 tweets related to food poisoning in Chicago which led to 233 food poisoning reports submitted to CDPH. From those reports an additional 150 restaurant and food service inspections occurred.


Foodborne Chicago was created by Smart Chicago and civic tech developers in partnership with CDPH. More information on Foodborne Chicago is available at and on Twitter at @Foodbornechi.

News story: Finding ‘real people’ to test civic apps

Here’s a story about the CUTGroup in today’s Chicago Tribune.

Harris: Finding ‘real people’ to test civic apps

July 7. 2013

Daniel O’Neil of the Smart Chicago Collaborative aims to engage city residents in the process of building civic-minded technology

Daniel O’Neil is one of the founders of Everyblock. The now shuttered hyperlocal news website was among the first to exhume government data sets — reams of building permits, for instance — and publish them online for the curious and skilled to investigate.

O’Neil knows the curious and skilled type. His type. Often white and male. A city-dweller who’s great with computers and numbers. Mature enough to care about his neighbors, his city — yet a tad skeptical of authority. Usually sporting jeans, thick-rimmed glasses and a collared button-down shirt featuring some sort of L.L. Bean-ish checkered pattern.

O’Neil, 46, now runs a nonprofit group, called the Smart Chicago Collaborative, whose mission is to help this community of hackers and journalists do better work. For instance, it hosts websites that do really clever and helpful things with data from City Hall. (

The collaborative’s newest initiative is the civic user testing group. The group has recruited 400 “real people” — O’Neil’s words — to test new civic apps. Every person who joins the group gets a $5 gift card. And test participants receive a $20 gift card and bus fare.

“The big picture is to get residents engaged in the civic technology process — because currently they’re not,” O’Neil said immediately after a recent test of Tom Kompare‘s almost-finished app,, at a public library in Uptown. “There’s a sort of practical goal — for this to happen right there. That’s an actual developer who usually goes to Open Gov Hack Night on Tuesday nights at the Merchandise Mart and interacts with 25 white, male specimens and tries to make decisions about what the next app is that they’re going to try to get somebody to write about.

“It’s a process I find maddening because I’ve been at this for a while. And I’ve done that before. I’ve been the app-of the-day guy. It feels great. And then that’s it. … It’s not of any use.”

Kompare, 43, of Rogers Park, has a full-time job at the University of Chicago. He builds civic apps for fun in his free time. (See Kompare’ for a map pothole complaints near you that haven’t been addressed.) For his most recent project — an app that helps people find the quickest, safest way to get their kids to school — Kompare needed specific testers: Parents who take their kids to and from Chicago public schools and have two hours to spare on a weeknight to give the app serious thought.

Kompare asked the three women who showed up for a recent test to describe their typical morning.

“I look at the stove clock. If it says 7:43, I know I’m on target,” said Melissa Sanchez, 43, laughing.

“I like your very specific time, that’s good,” Kompare said.

“And then we get in the car. So as I pull out of the alley, I’ll look. If the Kennedy Expressway is moving, then I’ll jump on the expressway.”

“Oh, you can see it?” Kompare asked.

“Yes. If I know it’s not (moving), then I’ll head toward Diversey (Avenue). If Diversey is packed, then I go toward Logan Boulevard to cut out Diversey. If I take Diversey and I make it to Diversey and Ashland (Avenue) at 8 o’clock — 8:07 is tardy — so if I’m at the red light at 8 o’clock then I know I can make it in four minutes, blind. Then it all depends. I’ll open the door and, if they have one minute, I’m like, ‘RRRUUUNNNN!'”

It doesn’t get more real than that. After sharing their stories, each participant tested the app in a one-on-one conversation with Kompare, O’Neil or a member of the Smart Chicago Collaborative’s staff.

Sanchez suggested that Kompare change the wording on a few buttons for clarity. She said she liked Kompare’s clean design and that he had pre-programmed the addresses of all of Chicago’s public schools. But she wanted the app to do more — to supply her with a reverse route home; to store her home address; and to speak the route to her like a GPS device.

“You’ll use this because you’re in a rush and in a crunch,” said Sanchez, who lives in Logan Square and works for the schools’ head start program. “I’m not going to memorize the route because I’m already stressed and panicked. I’m going to need somebody to coach me, guide me.”

On their way out of the library at 8 p.m., O’Neil asked Kompare what he thought of the test. “A home run,” Kompare replied. “The woman I was working with. Faaantastic. She gave me at least three (improvements) that are doable.” Kompare said the app suggested the woman’s son take the Cermak bus to school, but she told Kompare that wasn’t an option because that route crossed through unsafe gang territory.

“A better build-out of this is having the option to pick the bus stop where you want to start,” Kompare said. “That way you can choose a bus stop you can logically use. That was something I picked up today.”

O’Neil was relieved. Only six people had signed up to attend, and he had a reporter coming. Worried about how the small group would look, he almost opened the test to all 400 testers rather than limit participation to parents of children in Chicago Public Schools.

“I have this desire to have like a big raucous, big meeting,” O’Neil said. “That’s my nature. But we got three incredibly qualified, incredibly articulate people to give this guy feedback. Now (after two tests), he’s got seven people. We’ve had geographic diversity. Two men. It was mainly African-Americans, come to think of it. That’s worth it.”


Chicago Tribune - Harris  Finding 'real people' to test civic apps

Harris: Finding 'real people' to test civic apps

Launch: Early Childhood Portal for City of Chicago

Today marked the launch of,

Here’s some snips from the press release from the Mayor’s Office:

As part of the his administration’s focus on increasing access to quality early learning programs for children across the city and emphasis on helping parents get and stay involved in their children’s education, Mayor Rahm Emanuel today launched a new online Early Leaning Portal, The portal is an easy-to-use, interactive website that puts information about hundreds of quality early learning programs across the city all in one place.


“We were happy to collaborate with the City on this interactive map, which will allow parents and families to find information about these programs easily and quickly. We’re interested in hearing from parents and caregivers on what would make the site more useful to them,” said Dan O’Neil, Executive Director of the Smart Chicago Collaborative. “We’re also releasing the code for the site as open source, so that it can be used to make similar map-based sites showing resources across the city.”

“Our focus is on making sure children are ready to learn when they enter kindergarten. M.K. and I share Mayor Emanuel’s strong commitment to providing high-quality early learning for infants, toddlers and their families,” said J.B. Pritzker, president of the J.B. & M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation. “Helping Chicago parents and caregivers identify the best early childhood educational opportunities in their neighborhoods is critically important. This online interactive, one-stop shop will help parents and caregivers access and better manage the challenging process of selecting a high-quality early learning program for their infants and toddlers.”

Here’s the code that drives the site.

Chicago Early Learning
Chicago Early Learning web site.
Presenting the Early Childhood Portal as 37th Ward Alderman Emma Mitts Looks On
Presenting the Early Childhood Portal as 37th Ward Alderman Emma Mitts Looks On

Here’s a spot on CBS about the site:

LAUNCH: New Web Site for US Senate Candidate David Hoffman

Today I launched a new Web site for US Senate candidate David Hoffman.

David Hoffman, Democrat for US Senate_1256839790012

Here’s the blog post I wrote for the launch:

October 27, 2009

Tour Our New Web Site

Today we launched our new campaign Web site. Here’s a look at the features and content. Most importantly, we’d like invite you to contribute to it in meaningful ways.

David on the issues

We’ve heard from lots of voters that they’re ready to back a candidate that is not associated with politics as usual, but they want to hear more about what he’ll do as our next Senator. Here’s what David has to say about Financial Regulation, Health Care, and many more important issues of the day. If there is an issue that you believe should be addressed, write to us at

See David on video

David has been storming the state and appearing on television, talking about the issues and letting people know where he stands. If you want to get to know more about David, you can see him talking on Chicago’s West Side about how he has fought gun violence, talking to Champaign County Democrats about corruption in Illinois, and an interview with Carol Marin on Chicago Tonight.

Join the conversation with Twitter

Lots of campaigns tweet, with one-way posts that link to press releases. We see that Twitter can be an essential source for organized discussion on the Web. We highlight three types of tweets right on our homepage– from the campaign, what people are saying in the #hoffman4IL hashtag, and what people are asking using @hoffman4IL. This allows anyone on Twitter to publish directly to our the bottom of every page on our Web site, including the homepage. If you don’t have a Twitter account or have any idea what it is, they have a great video and other helpful information on their site. Please note that we welcome all voices here, but we won’t tolerate hateful, violent, spam, or otherwise off-topic tweets. Don’t worry– if we remove your right to publish to our site, you’ve still got the whole rest of the World Wide Web to work with. We’re interested in hearing about the issues that matter to you and other Illinoisans. Please join us!

Flickr feed

We think we’ve integrated our Flickr account pretty nicely. We plan more ways to show support for David and engage photographers from all over Illinois in the future. We’re a member of Illinois-oriented photo groups on Flickr like Enjoy Illinois.


One of the challenges for a campaign like ours is getting the word out about David. The more people know about him, the more they like him. So if you visit our site and are signed in to Facebook, you may see people you know who support the campaign. Join them on Facebook now.

In real life

We know that the world doesn’t begin and end on the Internet. Our Web site is just one tool for us in winning the election in February. We need your help– here on the Web, door-to-door, person-to-person. Please volunteer to help out in any way you can.

Contact us

If you have any questions or suggestions, please contact me at any time–

Daniel X. O’Nei
lNew Media Director
Hoffman for Illinois

And a pretty comprehensive blog post covering a major new feature:

Adventures In Campaign Twittering

As some may have noticed, our campaign coverage has taken a back-seat to some other issues in the past month.  Expect it to ramp back up at the beginning of next week.In the meantime, those interested in the intersection of social media and political campaigns should check out a feature on U.S. Senate David Hoffman’s newly-redesigned website.
First some background: From a technological standpoint, one of the notable aspects of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign was the large user community that sprung up around its website,  Millions of users regularly flocked there because the campaign allowed them to actually publish blog posts and interact with each other on the site.
Now, in the wake of his victory, lower-level campaigns are wondering how they can build similar engagement online.  Most don’t have the resources to moderate the type of community built by Obama’s new media team.  Moreover, there just isn’t the same degree of interest in congressional or statewide races as you see during a presidential campaign.
So what other options are out there?
Many campaigns are actively using Twitter to keep followers up-to-speed on the latest developments (see Alexi Giannoulias, Cheryle Jackson, and Dan Hynes as prime examples on the Democratic side).  Now, with his new website, Hoffman is trying to up the ante by encouraging and exposing the interaction that happens on Twitter.
Towards the bottom of his homepage, his campaign has devoted an entire horizontal section to 1) tweets from the @hoffman4IL account, 2) tweets about Hoffman using the #hoffman hashtag, and 3) replies to his account for other users.What this means is that anyone with a Twitter account can write a message (assuming it is within the realm of civil discourse) that appears on the Hoffman homepage.  They just have to reply to his account or use the #hoffman hashtag.  Already one user has asked about Hoffman’s position on the “responsibility to encourage and fund the arts.”  And they received a response within an hour.It’s a creative idea and something to keep an eye on.

Here’s some more coverage:

David Hoffman On the Series of TubesIL-SEN Thu Oct 29 2009

The Illinois techie-political blogosphere is abuzz about former Chicago Inspector General and current US Senate candidate David Hoffman’s new website redesign, which includes the ability for users to post directly to the candidate’s website through Twitter hash tags–it also looks pretty damn good. Head over and check it out.

That sort of interactivity, which the Obama campaign allowed with its user pages (“”) is going to be both a major innovation and a major challenge for campaigns from here on out. How do you allow for the public to interact and take some ownership of the site without risking losing control, getting off message, or getting high jacked? Looks like the Hoffman campaign is interested in testing those waters. Good for them.

Website: Open Source Homeland

Today I launched a website called Open Source Homeland. Here’s the about page:

This site highlights the people and tools that support the idea of Open Source Homeland— that regular citizens can play key roles in what are traditionally considered government responsibilities— disaster recovery, national security, and emergency preparedness.

Here are some recent examples:

  • Craigslist Katrina: the spontaneous offers of help and lists of the missing that were organized quickly and efficiently by regular people on a free website. Thousands of people with free tools doing what the government couldn’t possibly do on its own
  • CTA Alerts: a group of hundreds of riders of the Chicago Transit Authority who text each other with service updates. The largest contributor to this site, which I started on a free wireless network service, is the CTA itself. Government cooperating with citizens to get things done cheaply
  • Policy Analysis Market: the failed 2003 initiative of DARPA-run Terrorism Information Awareness Office. It was to be an online tool that would allow people to trade contracts on the likekihood of certain events. Subtitled “A Market in the Future of the Middle East“, PAM sought to use market forces to pull quality info out of normal people

In earlier times, people used spades and seeds to plant victory gardens. Now we naturally turn to other tools. With a focus on the United States, this site highlights the tools people use to be of use.

Open Source Homealnd

Website: Case Study on a Parish Weblog

I maintain the parish website at Here’s a summary of the website strategy & structure, some stats on the site, and some thinking for the future.

Underlying strategy

  • The site launched in the Spring of 2004 after a few months of planning and development
  • There were a couple of main impetuses for the site– one was to have all of the great content from the weekly parish publication (The Guide) available on the web (this has been successful) and the other was to allow any ministry to publish their own content to the web as well (less successful)
  • In support of the “ministries can publish” strategy, I conducted a number of training sessions at the school after we launched the site. Some ministries attended. The Peace & Justice Committee,,  were probably the most excited and they maintained a site for a while. The Respect Life Committee published for a while as well
  • Another successful site was for the Athletic Committee, They have stopped publishing to the site as well
  • I think one reason why few groups publish on their own is because they are so well-represented in The Guide (and therefore on the Parish homepage). So, I think the strategy was actually flawed and not the execution. It’s really too much to expect entities to maintain their own sites in a volunteer environment. They are well served with the other element of the strategy (i.e. publishing to The Guide = publishing to the web).

Underlying technology

  • I created the site myself using TypePad. I am providing the logins in the mailed version of this email for the sake of security.
  • The top banner was created by parishioner Tim Irvine
  • TypePad costs $15/ month
  • I get a copy of The Guide every week. I cut up the articles (Nothing Is Impossible With God, Announcements, and Mass Schedule & This Week at Queen of Angels). If there is a big story, I pull it out of Announcements and make it separate.  In the main, I publish as soon as I get The Guide– I’d say 70% of the time. I do lapse every once in a while and have to publish 2 at a time
  • The URL for the site is a subdomain of the school Web site:
  • TypePad generates RSS feeds for the site. These are underutilized by parishioners– there is room for improvement here. Here’s a good primer on RSS:
  • There is room in our $15 TypePad account for an infinite amount of subsites and URLs

Here are some hard numbers about our website:

  • There are close to 800 pages of content on the Parish website. You can browse the entire archives here:
  • This includes every single word published in The Guide for the last 3 years
  • We currently average 73 unique visitors per day and the view an average of two pages each. In the overall world of the internet, this is not a lot of people, but in our world of Catholic parishes, it’s actually pretty good. That’s like 511 visitors to the Parish per week!
  • We get some web stats from a free service called Site Meter, You can get the stats just by clicking on the colored box in the left column or go here:
  • We also get some stats inside the TypePad tool
  • Judging from the referrers (i.e. the link that people clicked on to get to our site), a high percentage of our visitors are from search engine traffic (as opposed to parishioners or other people who know about the site and reach it by typing the URL into the browser or by a browser bookmark
  • We rank #1 for the search term, “Fr. Jim Kaczorowski”, for instance:
  • We also use Google Analytics for web stats: See the attached chart for the most popular content in the last week (highly representative of what I’ve seen through time). Here’s the list:
  1. Homepage
  2. Masses
  3. Contacts
  4. General Parish Info
  5. History
  6. Book a Wedding
  7. Links
  8. Nothing is Impossible With God

Queen of Angels Parish, Chicago