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In Ottawa, Open Data App Competition Mysteriously Disappears

BY Jessica McKenzie | Wednesday, December 4 2013

Traffic jam (Flickr/MSVG)

Shortly after the city of Ottawa released Ottowa Nav, their new smartphone traffic navigation app, in mid-November, the negative reviews started to pour in: users reported bugs logging in and bemoaned a lack of features. It was a disappointing product all around, but especially so when one considered that it cost the city roughly $95,000. Then the Ottawa Citizen revealed that the city had considered sponsoring an open data competition, but ultimately chose to give the massive contract to a Toronto company.

Reporter David Reevely wrote, “The episode shows the government's uneasy relationship with open data.”

Traffic congestion in Ottawa is an ongoing problem. In November the GPS company TomTom ranked the city 15th worst in all of North America. This was actually an improvement over last year, when Ottawa placed 10th.

Documents that the Citizen acquired through access-to-information legislation show the city government grappling with how to alleviate the problem using technology. Two consultants suggested releasing traffic data to the public and sponsoring a transportation app competition. The winning team(s) could then submit formal proposals and one stellar app would become the official app.

None of that ended up happening. The documents show that the proposal was consistently approved by aides and managers, but when it was shown to Robert Giggey, “the city's guru in charge of open data,” the paper trail went cold.

In a bit of a bizarre twist, the city did end up sponsoring an open data competition this year, just without a category for vehicle navigation. They did have a category called “On The Move,” which was “intended to help people get around the city, including public transit, driving, cycling and walking,” but the winning apps centered around public transit.

Making a driving app at that time might have been difficult because, according to the Citizen, the data used by Ottawa Nav was only publicly released later on with the launch of the app itself.

The Ottawa Open Data App Contest 2013, which had four categories and five levels of awards (Gold, Silver, Bronze, Best Student App and People's Choice) cost $38,000 (and some of that came from sponsoring companies), $57,000 less than what Ottawa paid a single Toronto company.

The winner of the “On The Move” category, Bus Buddy, is better reviewed in app stores than Ottawa Nav.

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