Tuesday 14 February 2012

MomoLondon: Data Driven Mobile Apps - Open data and more...

I missed last month’s Mobile Monday on Mobile Games but this panel more than made up for it.

Thanks to Jo Rabin and the rest of the Mobile Monday team for organising, and to Kasabi for the drinks!


  • Chair: Matt Biddulph @mattb - http://hackdiary.com
    • used to run http://dopplr.com
    • then worked for Nokia as Head of Data Strategy in Location & Commerce apps
    • any mobile phone company is becoming an information company
    • a data driven app is one that gets better the more data it has
    • good example is the evolution of Foursquare
    • in the last few months, they have added features to let you explore the area around you
    • human interaction and input makes data come alive
  • Leigh Dodds @ldodds - CTO, Kasabi
    • Kasabi trying to make data more accessible and easier to use
    • most of the apps I use are just interfaces to content, though not really data driven
    • data driven would be getting data from lots of people, or from historical data
    • favourite app is MyFitnessPal: a calorie tracking app that tracks everything he eats — either barcode or search
  • Jeni Tennison @JeniT - Linked Data Expert, Technical Architect for http://legislation.gov.uk
    • been involved in data.gov.uk esp. linked data
    • mobile devices have a lot of context available
    • how do we create the API that allows us to get out just the data we need for right here, right now?
    • what is the UI to summarise the data and pull out the really interesting bits?
      • pulling in data from multiple sources
      • feeding back data
  • Ian Holt @IanHolt - Developer Programme Manager, Ordnance Survey
    • quality of data is paramount
    • OS run masterclasses to help people use their data
    • favourite data app: ASBOrometer
      • what was important was people’s perception of the data…
  • Hannah Donovan @han - Design Director, This Is My Jam
    • used to work at last.fm
    • thisismyjam is just coming out of beta
    • data driven apps provide a key to the mess of the universe around you

What are your favourite datasets

  • LD: NHS dictionary of medicines and devices
    • recently been relicensed under new open govt license
    • everything that you could ever be prescribed
    • annotated with mappings through to product codes — so can scan a barcode and get a reference
    • good base data set as can reliably ensure people are talking about the same thing
    • a crucial problem in big data…
  • IH: often the geo data is a backdrop rather than the actual IDs
  • HD: echonest danceability
    • at a hackday made a prototype to throw a track at a robot to dance to it

Do apps get worse with more data?

e.g. twitter signal/noise dropping?

  • HD: bad example: Spotify getting hooked up to facebook and timelines being spammed…
    • thisismyjam trying for a slower pace
    • doing things realtime is hard but just becoming possible
    • has been a trend just to add more realtime ‘cos it’s cool
    • but actually we want to see more useful social & cultural info not just realtime firehose (“API vomit”)
  • IH: crowdsourcing is great but watch the quality…
  • JT: developers like to put everything on the screen
    • but need to think about that the user wants to do and how they’re going to do it
  • MB: should be a symbiotic relationship between designer and developer
    • not even back and forth, but an exploration

Good/bad experiences of designer and developer? How do you avoid API vomit?

  • LD: pairing up with a designer to explore some ideas is really interesting
    • designer asking “can I do this?” - stretching the developer
  • attendee: disagree completely! esp. govt should not pre-judge data based on use cases
  • IH: there has to be cartographic decisions at some point
    • what do we do now that we want digital output from the data that was collected previously for paper use
  • JT: there’s difference between what is available in the API and what’s shown in the UI

Historically, data was in libraries by default — in the public domain. But now owned by corporations. Have we sleepwalked into the police state?

  • LD: in a library is not public domain - now data is more accessible
  • HD: there were also people who controlled the content in libraries and only a few people had access
    • now the data is accessible from anywhere, not just in a big city centre

Combination of licenses from different data

  • Creative Commons movement has tried to clarify the concepts of collaborative works etc
  • If I want to take open govt data and combine it with wikipedia…?
  • LD: there aren’t any hard and fast answers
    • still in a murky state
    • Creative Commons is very useful and people are starting to apply them to their data, but creative commons licenses do not apply to content in Europe
    • though there does appear to be CC 2.0 licenses available
    • been some work in Creative Data Commons
    • commercial data has custom licenses
    • generally assume that the most restrictive license applies
    • attribution stacking problem — might have to attribute 1000 people to use one piece of data

Where does the data in an app come from?

  • IH: data may be untraceable
  • HD: really important to tell your users where the data is coming from
    • we still need quite a lot of different sources
    • content, editorial, user generated
    • depending on what you’re looking for, the answer might be different every time
  • JT: in legislation data, trying to maintain audit trails
    • if something goes wrong, want to know where

If data is important to people, it will tend to become free…

  • IH: OpenStreetMap are a wonderful bunch of people
    • OS remit is to capture a high degree of detail
    • have to have a universal coverage of Britain
    • some of data has been released as open, and some is licensed
    • keep pressuring for what you want and it might be delivered…

A mobile data driven app: integration and consequence

  • MB: important word is “driven”
    • there are plenty of static data sets, and data based applications
    • the thing that I do is magnified either by the depth of reference, or the other people who have done a similar thing
    • need to involve connected reference data and activity data
  • HD: people are the special sauce
    • navigating a mess - the layers that people create around what’s around
  • MB: in the first year or two, delicious.com/popular or the twitter hashtags were actually interesting
    • but with too much data, everything tends to bland
    • this is a huge issue with data driven apps
  • HD: last.fm data was indie focussed
    • but when integrated with XBox suddenly changed overnight to reflect country wide
    • overall stats now reflect national taste
    • but can drill down by category
    • but need to watch out for the important filters — make sure you don’t lose the “friend dataset”

Data protection: need to ask users to explicitly opt-in

  • IH: MapAction in Haiti
    • some events will create a lot of noise
    • needed to concentrate in specific countries
  • JT: UK is pretty near the forefront of open govt
    • open data institute
    • hard to work in balance with legal framework

Privacy: user backlash

e.g. Path uploading your address book without asking

  • LD: product development — want to get as much data as possible as that’s where the value is
    • from the consumer side, want to know where the benefit is for me
    • don’t want to give it away just for marketing or selling on
  • HD: we’re currently working with blunt tools when explaining to user how we want to use consumer’s data
    • OAuth screens don’t offer room to tell you how your data will be used

Web or apps?

  • MB: most exciting thing is the phone being full of sensors
    • the map (generated data) can become worth more than the territory (the app you build)
    • so always think about native apps over web
  • JT: (as W3C contributor) should always be using proper web apps, of course…
    • but apps can always get more data than generic standard APIs
    • payment model is good on devices but not good at the moment on open web

Is there a good description of different types of data and how you might need to combine them?

  • HD: use cases are fundamental
    • often see a tendency to make things consistent
    • but the different things may have different contexts
    • for example, last.fm on a TV with XBox is different to what you would want on your phone
  • LD: took a while for the language of film to evolve
    • maybe we’re going through the same thing in mobile?

What kind of data stores are people using in real life? NoSQL, RDF, Oracle…?

  • MB: more about really rigorous approach to data identity
    • have to keep provenance and individual promises

Is there any way I could buy and sell my data?

  • LD: lot of work going on in this area
    • storing personal data and allowing apps access to it
    • My X (?) in the UK
    • Ed.: I couldn’t find a reference for this one


  • 19th March: ePublishing/eBooks
  • 2nd April: DEMO NIGHT
    • applications open very shortly!
    • looking for 16 companies
  • Mobile 360 Live
    • 20% discount for Mobile Monday London members

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