Personal Democracy Plus Our premium content network. LEARN MORE You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

At the MTA, a Data Maven is Moving On

BY Nick Judd | Monday, December 5 2011

Sarah Kaufman, one of the main engines behind the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority's rapid evolution into a friendly partner with third-party software developers, is leaving the authority later this week to take a job in academia.

Kaufman is leaving the MTA, the public benefit corporation responsible for all of the city's subway and bus systems, much of its commuter rail pathways and some of its bridges, to take a position at New York University. She will join the university's Rudin Center for Transportation Policy Management, part of the Wagner School for Public Policy. Kaufman's last day at the MTA will be Wednesday.

At the MTA, Kaufman went beyond her job description — at her departure, focused on customer communcations technologies — to serve as a primary point of contact for developers building applications on top of the data the MTA releases.

As late as 2009, the MTA was actively discouraging people from attempting to build even software tools that it couldn't or wouldn't build itself, taking a proprietary stance on its data as well as its marks, like the logos for each subway line. Then people like Kaufman and external actors like the folks at OpenPlans began to get involved; under the leadership of then-MTA-chairman Jay Walder, the authority began reaching out to developers instead of, by Walder's own admission, pushing them away. Now, the authority is banking on the ingenuity of third parties to provide services atop MTA-offered data at a time when it continues to struggle with everything from a perennially tight budget to a lack of continuity at the top of its organizational chart. It is this pro-sharing attitude that has allowed MTA data to show up in Google Maps, for instance; for authority staff to answer questions on Twitter; and for developers to build new tools for riders, like this one, which guides riders towards the subway station exits closest to where they are trying to go.

The MTA now maintains a Google group for developers to go back and forth with authority staff about their data; Kaufman is a chief moderator of that list and an all-around liaison between the public benefit corporation and the city's tech community.

"We’re working on determining who might take on her numerable roles," MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan wrote to me in an email.

News Briefs

RSS Feed tuesday >

First POST: Company

The global "Snowden effect" is huge; how many consumer-facing online services fail the user privacy test; the Dems' 2016 digital to-do list; and much, much more. GO

monday >

First POST: Mood Slime

The Sony email leak reveals the MPAA's campaign against Google; how Uber is lobbying in local markets; mapping the #MillionsMarchNYC; and much, much more. GO

friday >

First POST: Cloudy

What the Internet is not; new analysis of public opinion on net neutrality; how cloud backup apparently foiled a police coverup; and much, much more. GO

thursday >

First POST: Records

Is the future of citizen journalism vigilantism?; one tech mogul's vocal support for CIA torture; a cri de couer from the founder of the Pirate Bay; and much, much more. GO

Web Index Sees Impact of Net Neutrality, Surveillance and Copyright Laws

Denmark, Finland, Norway, the United Kingdom and Sweden have come out on top of the Web Index, a ranking of the Web Foundation measuring the economic, social and political benefit that countries gain from the web. The United States is at number six. For the authors of the report accompanying the index, the results reflect how inequality has an impact on access to the web. "Nordic policy-makers have been quick to adopt and promote the free Internet - and open access to information - as a 21st century public good," the report states. " Others, as this year's findings show, need to move fast to catch up." The report attributes the Scandinavian countries' advantage to the countries' broader efforts to invest in public goods and establish a welfare and acting against " excess concentrations of wealth and power." With the lower inequality in those countries than in others, "the skills, means and freedoms to benefit from new technologies are widespread, which helps to explain why Scandinavian countries score highly on the political, social and economic impact of the Web GO

More