Technical Nous and a Nose for News

Scraperwiki Logo

Making sense of all the information on the web is tough. But in the European Union alone, its estimated value of €27 billion probably makes the effort worthwhile.

Whether information is newsworthy, commercially worthy or of public interest, British startup Scraperwiki (@scraperwiki) hopes it can take the lead in providing the tools to harvest that data. To that end, it organized a Hacks and Hackers Hack Day yesterday to showcase its product.

Organized in conjunction with the Guardian newspaper’s open platform, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) Dublin freelance branch, and Innovation Dublin, the free, day-long workshop was the 8th in Scraperwiki’s tour of Britain and Ireland.

Basically, people were asked to come along with ideas for harvesting data from the web. The resulting teams — forged between  those with technical nous and those with a nose for news — embarked on a friendly competition until the end of the day.

Established since March, Liverpool-based Scraperwiki  has already secured a first round of funding and steadily building a user base, according to Director Áine McGuire (@amcguire62). Around 700 developers have signed up and the company plans to keep holding hack/hacker days to gets its message out. Scraperwiki also wants to position itself as an affordable means for local authorities to share data, McGuire said.

Meanwhile, Ireland’s local councils are slowly loosening their grip on public information. Spurred on by an EU directive on reuse of public data and the costs of releasing data repeatedly to individuals, Fingal County Council has uploaded reams of data up on its website. Interestingly, this made a representative from Dublin City Council jealous of the lead Fingal has taken.

As for the competition, a team called monuMENTAL set up a site to monitor planning applications in historic areas. Pulling data from local authorities and historic websites, it overlaid planning applications on Google Maps to show just how close proposed building work is to monuments. The judges liked the project because they felt it could create a new community around environmental protection.

In second placed was an e-tenders project that harvested data from a number of sites to show what was being tendered and who won the bids. In third place was a group that sought to match environmental licenses issued on one site with enforcement notices for violation of those licenses. Naturally, this information was stored in PDF format elsewhere.

Scraperwiki logo copied from their website and is not mine to share.

A blog post on the event by Trish Morgan can be found here.

Gerard Cunningham wrote up his group’s project on speed traps here.

Another post from ScraperWiki can be found here.

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