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July 01 2011


Meet the User – Kevin Curry

The ScraperWiki digger had been driven far and wide. Wherever there’s open data you’ll find us parked nearby. I’ve noticed it travel across the Atlantic and have contacted the driver – Kevin Curry. He has the grand title (as well as digger driver!) of Chief Scientist and Co-founder of Bridgeborn, Inc. He is computer science graduate from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Our American friends may also know him for CityCamp.

He’s currently interested in United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) data for a variety of reasons, only some of which have to do with food. He’s been involved with Gov 2.0 from its beginnings. USDA happens to be one of the biggest publishers of open data in the US federal government. But in the case of the commodities data, it’s a highly granular. You can get XML for each and every commodity but that is the only way you can get the data. There’s no aggregate collection. So he decided to create one. In his day job he doesn’t get to write much code anymore, so he also had that itch to scratch. Hence the decision to take the wheel of the ScraperWiki digger.

I am a huge fan of ScraperWiki. Publishing scrapers on ScraperWiki is a great way to share what’s been done and hopefully get others to create new things with it. Publishing data through ScraperWiki can serve local government, community organizations and news providers. It bothers me when governments and newspapers cite facts based on data but don’t link to the data. Usually there are other interesting questions that can be asked and answered, and other views that can be created, that are not in the published report or news article. But this requires access to the data. At the same time, data without context isn’t useful. What can cities learn from the data they collect? What interesting stories can journalists tell? ScraperWiki is a great way to start answering those questions. – Kevin Curry

At the moment, the USDA project is just a hobby. He’s also interested in local food data. USDA publishes a table of farm markets and farms. But if you want to know who has fresh blue crabs today, what sizes and how much they cost then you have to call around to a half-dozen local providers. That’s a different sort of data challenge. He says the next thing he will tackle with ScraperWiki is data published by the city government or regional transportation authority.

USDA watch out – you’re being ScraperWikied!

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