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How Your Burrito Review Could Help Standardize Municipal Data - Emily Badger - The Atlantic Cities


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For the July/August issue of The Atlantic, I wrote a piece discussing the intriguing new initiative between Yelp and several municipalities, starting with San Francisco, to publish restaurant health inspection scores right alongside reviews on the consumer platform. Technically, these scores are already public information, sitting in the data portals of many cities. But a lot of work has gone into converting inspection results into a format that Yelp, or any other review site, can automatically ingest. And the potential implications are pretty compelling: As I write in the magazine, researchers and city officials are hoping that this idea could make the data more useful, the restaurants cleaner and safer, and the people who dine in them less likely to vomit.

The idea is about both open data and public health (oh, and the awesome power of algorithms!). But there's also some greater potential significance here that I did not dive into much in the story.

We write frequently at Atlantic Cities about tools cities are building (or enabling citizens to build) with open data. But a building code violation dataset in one city is not necessarily compatible with a building code violation dataset in another city. And this is true of all kinds of things. Cities measure miles of bike lanes differently. They track snowplows differently. They respond to and count potholes differently. In fact, until now, we've really only had one major example of a common data specification used across multiple municipalities to feed information into national consumer platforms: That's the General Transit Feed Specification, which Googlehelped develop with cities so that their transit schedules and station locations might usefully be imported into platforms like Google Maps.

"Tools cities are building with open data" is a wonderful set of words. 

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