Winnipeg Announces Largest Open Data Government Site; First to be Powered by Semantic Technologies

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Winnipeg just released its "NOW" portal celebrating its diverse and historical 236 neighborhoods. The portal, the first and largest local government site globally to exclusively embrace semantic technologies, is an innovative and engaging gateway to all things "community."

The City of Winnipeg, the capital and largest city of Manitoba, Canada, just released its "NOW" portal celebrating its diverse and historical 236 neighborhoods. The portal, the first and largest local government site to exclusively embrace semantic technologies, is powered by Structured Dynamics' open semantic framework (OSF).

"The NOW portal is one of the largest releases of open data by a local government to date, with some 57 varied datasets now available ranging from local neighborhood amenities such as pools and recreation centers, to detailed real estate and economic development information. Nearly one-half million individual Web pages comprise the site, driven exclusively by semantic technologies," said Michael Bergman, SD's CEO and contract manager for the effort. "Nearly 10 million assertions underlie the site," he added.

In announcing the site, Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz said, “We want to attract new investment to the city and, at the same time, ensure that Winnipeg remains healthy and viable for existing businesses to thrive and grow.” He added, “The new web portal, Neighbourhoods of Winnipeg—or NOW—is one way that we are making it easy to do business within the City of Winnipeg.” In announcing the site, Mayor Sam Katz also released a short four-minute introductory video about the site.

Structured Dynamics was the lead contractor for the effort. But the NOW story is really one of municipal innovation and a demonstration of what a staff of city employees can accomplish when given the right tools and frameworks. "Our real pleasure has been seeing the City staff themselves convert the data and work the tools. The NOW site is testament to the ability of semantic technologies to be learned and effectively used and deployed by subject matter professionals from any venue," said Bergman.

As its name implies, the entire thrust of the Winnipeg portal is on its varied and historical neighborhoods. The NOW portal itself is divided into seven major site sections with 2,245 static pages and a further 425,000 record-oriented pages. The fulcrum around which all data is organized on the NOW portal are the 236 neighborhoods within the City of Winnipeg, organized into 14 community areas, 15 political wards, and 23 neighborhood clusters. These neighborhood references link to thousands of City of Winnipeg and external sites, as well as have many descriptive pages of their own.

Site information is either authored specifically for the NOW portal or migrated from legacy City databases. Coverage ranges from parks, schools, recreational and sports facilities, and zoning, to libraries, bus routes, police stations, day care facilities, community gardens and more. More than 1,000 attributes characterize this data, all of which may be used for filtering or slicing the data.

A key aspect of the site is its real estate, assessment and zoning information. Every address and parcel in the city -- a count nearing 190,000 in the current portal -- may be looked up and related to its local and neighborhood amenities. Up to three areas of the City may be mapped and compared to one another, felt to be a useful tool for screening economic development potentials.

All of the neighborhood and neighborhood clusters may be investigated and compared using Census data, which includes population, education, labor and work, transportation, education, languages, income, minorities and immigration, religion, marital status, and other family and household measures.

NOW is entirely an ontology-driven site, with both domain and administrative ontologies guiding all aspects of search, retrieval and organization. There are 12 domain ontologies govering the site, two of which are specific to NOW (the NOW ontology and a Canadian Census ontology). Ten external ontologies (such as FOAF, GeoNames, etc) are also used. The NOW ontology has more than 2500 subject concepts within it covering all aspects of municipal governance and specific Winnipeg factors.

About one-third of all of the information on the NOW site -- or about 420,000 records representing nearly three million RDF triples -- contains geo-locational information of one form or another. There are about 200,000 points of interest records, another 200,000 area or polygon records, and about 7,000 paths and routes such as bus routes in the system.

Depending on the type of object at hand, one of more than 50 templates may be invoked to govern the display of its record information. These templates are selected contextually from the ontology and present different layouts of map, image, record attribute or other information, all keyed by the governing type.

On virtually any display or after any filter selection, there is an "export" button that allows the active data to be exported in a variety of formats. The NOW portal may be accessed at: http://now.winnipeg.ca.

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Michael Bergman
mike@structureddynamics.com
319-339-0650
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