Suburbmatchmaker Mashup interview

Daniela Fernandez co-developed the Student Prize Winning Suburbmatchmaker with Raul Caceres and Roberto Arias.  Suburbmatchmaker uses government data to help citizens in NSW find the best suburb according to preferences in a number of factors such as more families with children, with no children, more single people, predominant religion etc.

What was your experience in contacting the originators of the data you used – did you speak to them direct, were they are the hackfests? You used a phenomenal number of datasets!

Yes, Some of them were at the hackfest.  Most of the information was collected from www.data.australia.gov.au and www.abs.gov.au.  However, we compared some data with the Department of Local Government in NSW to check the suburbs

What motivated you to participate and clearly put a huge amount of effort into it?

We believe in the power that information can give to citizens and specially when this information can motivate citizens to take action

What are your backgrounds? Is this your first foray into putting maps on websites etc.

Daniela Says: I’m Computer Scienece Engineer graduated at Javeriana University in Colombia and recently I finished my masters degree of Information Technology in System Security at Macquarie University. In Colombia I developed different projects for the Government, specifically for the Secretariat of Public Health and since that time I have believed that I can provide benefit to other people, specially people with low economic resources making use of my IT knowledge. At the moment I work as Web Anlanlytics Specialist for a Google Authorized Consultant company (Mangold Sengers).

Raul says: I’m an Engineer that decided to leave the corporate world to work on projects that use the power of the internet to promote positive social change. Raul received the United Nations Online Volunteer of the Year award in 2006 for a project in Sierra Leone and he is now the Project Manager for the first Social Innovation Camp in Australia sicampaustralia.org

Roberto Says: I have a Bachelor’s of Science in Informatics in Mexico and Master’s Degree in IT in Australia. My whole life have been around technology and most recently about travelling and knowing different cultures. Although this wasn’t my first time putting information on maps, this time I wasn’t in charge of that. I was mashing up the massive database while Raul worked on Drupal and the maps.

Was there any data you would have liked but couldn’t get?

The same crime statistics for any state. If the information were standard, it’d be quite easy to transport the system to any state. There’s some partial information in other states but with different formats.

What will happen to suburbanmatchmaker now? Are you continuing development? Is this something that you think you could make money out of (if that interests you?)

We are going to see if people start using it  (Google Analytics) and we will make a decision on whether to invest more efforts to develop the site further. We think it would be a good thing if the system were endorsed by the local governments themselves and, at the same time, being a tool to engage the community to expand it in a sort of social network. Probably we can commercialise it in some way although it’s not the main objective at the moment

How will (or would) you keep the data current – will the dataset providers alert you when they have an update or do you have to go looking? How much work would be involved in implementing updates and could it be automated?

The government doesn’t seem to be very efficient keeping this information up to date, however let’s see if the 2009 data is ready soon. If they don’t change the formats, updating the information can be quick; however,  a massive Excel spreadsheet isn’t exactly the best format in the world. Hopefully they will standardise the data and we can publish the web service we were creating. Probably we need to get the appropriate contacts in the government and speak about the advantages.

Would your preference be for the government to publish the data you used via a web service so that they had the responsibility for keeping it up to date (and fixing things like Winji Jimmi) and your mashup made calls to whatever it needed?

Genius! That’d make the things easier. Although there’s a massive number of records to process, we did all the databases in our laptops, working part-time with just a bunch of people over 2 days at Google headquarters. The work is hard but not extremely difficult. Making the webservices are not exactly rocket science. I think that if they see real benefits in doing a webservice they’ll do it. We as citizens have to ask for it as well.