Continuing San Francisco’s national leadership on open data

Port of San Francisco (Photo: Luke Fretwell)

Port of San Francisco (Photo: Luke Fretwell)

Today, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors will take its final vote to approve my update to our city’s groundbreaking open data law. My open data ordinance, in its simplest terms, standardizes and sets timelines for the release of appropriate city government data.

I know that my update to our open data ordinance will help lead to further innovation and technologically driven services, solutions, platforms, and applications for civic issues and problems. Technology is not going to be the cure-all for every problem government faces, but it can certainly help to improve our resident’s quality of life in certain instances, while continuing to boost our local economy at the same time.

All across the nation, cities, counties, states, and even the federal government have and continue to take steps towards making appropriate government data available because open data has proven to spark innovation, drive greater efficiency and cost-savings in government, and fuel further economic development – as evidenced in the recent and steady growth in the civic startup sector.

My law modifies and standardizes the city’s open data standards, ensuring for data released in machine-readable formats; sets timelines for city departments for the release of appropriate city data sets; creates a mechanism for city staff and agencies to interact with the public and entrepreneur community for the prioritization of releasing city data sets; and makes San Francisco the first city in the nation to be tasked with developing a strategy to give residents access to their own government held data.

There are examples here in San Francisco and nationally that show open data used in practice, and how open data can help accomplish all of the positive benefits mentioned above. Whether, it is Yelp’s recent partnership with the city to post public health scores to their website for city restaurants to help residents make healthier choices, to residents being able to use the acclaimed San Francisco Recreation and Parks App, which helps residents and visitors find park and recreation locations, make picnic table reservations, and allows for tickets for concerts, art exhibits, and other events to be purchased straight from a mobile device.

The standardization of the city’s technical open data standards, which ensures that data will be available for use in machine readable format that are non-proprietary, is key to unlocking the true potential and value of appropriate data sets that the City holds. A recent report from Mckinsey&Company states that open data can help unlock $3 trillion to $5 trillion in economic value worldwide annually across seven distinct sectors. A new economy with this great of potential is something that should not be ignored.

My ordinance also creates tighter deadlines for city departments to follow in the release and update of appropriate government data. Tighter deadlines regarding the release of open data sets creates certainty that will be extremely beneficial to the public and entrepreneur community. With more certainty, entrepreneurs and the public will be able to better plan around their individual ideas and implementations of our city’s open data sets that will be the base of the next product, service, or application that helps to benefit all San Franciscans.

The inclusion of timelines regarding the release of appropriate government data sets was not an arbitrary decision. It was a decision based in practice and from testimony we heard from the public and entrepreneur community. Yo Yoshida, CEO and Co-founder of Appallicious, was even quoted as saying “We look forward to putting some teeth into the open-data movement through this legislation. We do have some snafus with some departments not being able to release it quick enough to give the developers the ability to create products from this and create industry and jobs and move the movement forward.”

My ordinance also creates a better mechanism for the public and entrepreneur community to interact with city staff and departments who will be responsible for cataloging, updating, and uploading appropriate government data sets. By mandating each data set have the contact information of the staff that uploaded the data (phone and email) associated with the data set, any interactions between the two parties will be sure to spark creativity and discussion regarding potential high value data sets, so that the next amazing products and services will just be on the horizon.

Lastly, my ordinance would make San Francisco the first city in the nation to develop a strategy for giving residents access to their own government held data. The addition of this requirement in my ordinance believes in a growing national movement that is calling on all levels of government to give residents access to their own data for their own use. If it is yours, we should give it back to you – simple as that.

San Francisco Magazine called my ordinance the “Super-Boring City Law That Could Be Huge.” I guess open data may be boring to some, but I would tell you it depends on who you ask. It is definitely not boring when the transformative potential of open data is known to increase government efficiency and accountability, fuel further economic development, and create an atmosphere that encourages innovation, discovery and growth.

Open data vital for San Francisco’s Bike Share

bike share

Finally, a bike-sharing program is coming to San Francisco! What Europeans figured out years ago will be a reality in the Bay Area by this August. The plan is to put 700 bikes at 70 different stations in the City and throughout the Bay Area—where residents can quickly hop on a bicycle at one station, and drop it off at another. Appallicious is very excited about this new program, not only because we’re looking forward to hopping on these new bikes ourselves, but also in order for the program to be successful, the utilization of open data will be key. That’s why I’ll be joining and the San Francisco Bike Coalition at Yammer on Wednesday, for a conversation about the launch of the new program and how open data and the tech community at large fits in.

Once the bike share program starts, it’s going to be extremely important to know where the heaviest demand for bikes are at certain times during the day, and certain days during the week. It’s safe to assume that on a Monday morning, you’re going to need more bikes in residential areas, and less in the Financial District, since commuters will be biking to work. But with any program like this, unexpected variables are bound to come up, and this is where open data will come in.

The bikes and bike stations will most certainly have a GPS component where the city will be able to track bikes in use, and the amount that have been checked in or out at each station. Companies like Appallicious will then be able to synthesize this data and not only help the City of San Francisco figure out where and when the heaviest demand for bikes is, but can also inform citizens through mobile applications how many bikes are available at a specific station at any given time. Just like the features on the SF Rec and Park App we developed allows you to find parks, playgrounds, dog parks, picnic tables, and more — we could also bring bicycle availability right into the app! It will be just like checking the availability of a ZipCar at a nearby parking garage.

Once this raw data is available to Appallicious, there are quite a few steps before it can be packaged and presented to bike riders in a way that will help them figure out bike availability, or to city leaders who need to know which stations need more bikes, and which ones need less. The idea of the public sector providing the private sector with information like this is nothing new. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan issued a directive guaranteeing that GPS signals would be available at no charge to the world when sucha a system became operational, in the wake of a Korean Airlines flight that was shot down after accidentally flying into Russian airspace.

The Obama administration has continued to promote the idea of “sustainable innovation” that President Reagan helped start. The GPS directive from Reagan has created a $250 billion a year navigation industry. Think about GPS companies like Garmin or applications like Google Maps that rely on GPS—without Open GPS, these companies would have never have been created, and we’d still have stacks of paper maps from AAA stuffed in our glove compartments!

With this renewed push for open data, through President Obama’s Open Government Initiative, there is a chance for the United States to build a new, thriving and successful industry through information released to the public by city governments. As more and more information is released by cities all over the country and the world, companies are going to be able to step up and provide new technology that allow citizens to access and benefit from this information.

In San Francisco, open data advocates like Mayor Ed Lee and Supervisor David Chiu have just passed new open data legislation that will allow companies like Appallicious to create apps and change the way in which cities and governments are able to operate for years to come.

The possibilities are endless, and I am extremely excited to see how innovators and entrepreneurs find revolutionary ways of using this data to make bike sharing easier in San Francisco. Wouldn’t it be cool to integrate the bike-sharing program into the SF Rec and Park App? You could reserve a bike with your app and then take it for a tour of Golden Gate Park or see all the incredible art available throughout the city using the app. The open data movement has the potential to create a thriving, sustainable industry that can create millions of jobs, and a symbiotic relationship between the private and public sectors that could make both more effective, efficient, and profitable.

San Francisco makes open data city policy

SF Mayor Ed Lee introduced open data legislation on October 15 that would create a chief data officer and promote the use of open data in city government. (Photo: City of San Francisco)

SF Mayor Ed Lee introduced open data legislation on October 15 that would create a chief data officer and promote the use of open data in city government. (Photo: City of San Francisco)

Today, open data and its power to transform a city and a nation by engaging tech savvy citizens will be on display at San Francisco City Hall. And just as importantly, companies that have been successful because of forward thinking open data policies will testify to our elected leaders about its importance. As a founder of one of these sustainable companies, Appallicious, I am proud to be speaking on behalf of the open data movement.

After hearing testimony from myself and others in the open data industry, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors will review and vote on new legislation that will strengthen the city’s open data initiatives and allow San Francisco to appoint a Chief Data Officer (CDO) to manage the City’s open data efforts.

More than three years ago the City of San Francisco launched, the city’s one-stop shop for government data. San Francisco was the first city to follow the federal government’s open government effort, when it launched Since then, more than 70 apps have been developed for city residents by civic innovators and companies– countless other cities and towns have been inspired to follow San Francisco’s lead and have enacted similar policies, providing residents with greater accessibility to government data.

San Francisco’s open data efforts have helped spur the creation of apps for citizens that makes it easier for residents to receive government services, actively participate in city policy and have saved the city a substantial amount of money. Behind these open data apps are new, civically minded companies, and a new industry that is starting to emerge in the land of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.  Companies like Appallicious100PlusRoutesy, and Zonability, that would not have been possible just a couple years ago are popping up in cities all over the country supported by amazing organizations like Code For America.

Back in October 2012, I was proud to join San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, Supervisor David Chiu and San Francisco Rec & Park GM Phil Ginsburg as they introduced the revised open data legislation. These Gov 2.0 leaders used the event to highlight companies like Appallicious that are using open data to create apps and re-imagine our city. They launched the San Francisco Rec & Park app that Appallicious created using over 1,000 datasets for parks, playgrounds, and dog parks, along with transportation datasets so residents can get directions to all of the City’s attractions. All of these datasets are available on

The SF Rec & Park app makes it easy for anybody to find city parks, playgrounds, museums, picnic tables, gardens, restrooms, news and events and more in the palm of your hand. Information is displayed with descriptions and pictures on a GPS enabled mobile map.

The SF Rec & Park app, which was recently named by Mashable as one of 7 open data apps every city should have, also will soon make it easier for residents to make reservations for a soccer field or picnic table, or apply for a permit when they need to host an event in a public park. All of this will be available through a mobile device or on the web, saving taxpayers and government workers time and money. No longer will you have to wait on hold or send multiple emails to confirm a picnic table reservation for a birthday party.

Open data apps like this are only the beginning of something much bigger that is being made possible by open data policies and government leaders that get its importance.

On his first day as President, Obama signed the memorandum on Transparency and Open Government to spur innovation at the Federal level for private sector development. This move inspired progressive cities like San Francisco, Chicago, New York and Philadelphia to create their own open data legislation at the local level.  This has led to an emergent new industry, unparalleled innovation, job creation, revenue, and collaboration between government and the private sector not seen since President Reagan’s decision to open up the Global Positioning System in the 1980s.

Organizations like Code for America and Citizenville, as well as private companies like Appallicious and the SF Rec & Park app are living, breathing examples of the new industry first created by President Reagan in the 1980s and rejuvenated by President Obama.

Stay tuned, a whole new industry is starting to take form powered by open data on a local level, creating jobs, revenue, and never before seen citizen and government.

If your city is new to the open data movement, please ask your elected leaders to take the Citizenville Challenge and bring open data policies and innovation to your community. And take a second to support the open data movement by applauding Appallicious’ submission to the Knight Foundation News Challenge and others that are transforming the way government and citizens engage and communicate.

Corrections: “Open Government Act” was changed to “memorandum on Transparency and Open Government.” Reference to “Open GPS” was changed to “Global Positioning System.”

Appallicious joins with SF to launch park and rec iPhone app

Later today, as part of Innovation Month, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee will unveil SF Recreation & Park’s official iPhone App, SFRECPARK, developed for San Francisco by mobile commerce company Appallicious.

Appallicious CEO Yo Yoshida sat down with GovFresh to share how open data efforts made his company possible and what’s next in Gov 2.0.

Give us the 140-character elevator pitch.

Appallicious has created a first-of-its-kind mobile commerce platform, which allows government to create and manage its own custom mobile apps and generate new revenue through ticketing, reservations, permitting and more via mobile devices and web widgets.

What problems does Appallicious solve for government?

Smartphone users will download more than 45 billion apps in 2012, nearly twice the number of apps that were downloaded in 2011.

People are beginning to expect that they can do just about anything on their phone from purchasing tickets to finding the best dog park in their neighborhood to buying a hot dog at a sporting event. Government wants to innovate and provide residents and visitors with easy to use government apps for providing services, but many are still working to develop a website that works.

Government leaders are also trying to figure out more ways to bring in new revenue and optimize existing revenue to departments. Many government agencies are giving hundreds of thousands of dollars away annually to various outside companies that manage their ticketing for concerts, museums, park passes that instead could go directly to the city or town instead of through a third party. Thanks to advances in mobile technology cities and states do not need to use outside vendors for these services and can manage this all on their own through cheap and easy to use SaaS solutions.

Appallicious solves both of these problems with its easy to use and customizable Skipitt™ platform. The platform allows government agencies to have a suite of customized mobile apps that gives residents and visitors the ability to make reservations, purchase tickets for events, receive permits, navigate their city, and even order concessions — all from the palm of your hand. Our mobile platform allows government to collect revenue directly that they would only have gotten a portion of before, and manage their own custom applications and transactions from one robust and flexible content management system. Not to mention, it gives departments a much needed mobile facelift.

The app also makes it easier for residents to make reservations for a soccer field, picnic table or get that permit they need to host an event in a city park. All of this can now be done through a mobile device or the web, saving taxpayers and government workers time and money. No longer will you have to wait on hold or send multiple emails to confirm a picnic table reservation for a birthday party.

What’s the story behind starting Appallicious?

I’ve always loved technology and public service. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to help make government more accessible, but I did not know how I could make a difference. A couple weeks ago, Vice President Joe Biden summed up how technology will transform government, quoting Irish poet William Butler Yeats, “All’s changed, changed utterly. Terrible beauty has been born.” It is incredible how much has changed so quickly.

As Gov 2.0 efforts began to heat up three years ago with the federal government’s launch of and San Francisco’s open data efforts,, a light bulb went off. I began to start thinking about opportunities to transform the way people interact with government via a mobile device., and other Gov 2.0 efforts have begun to make government data easily accessible for developers to make all kinds web and mobile apps that make government work better and would not have been possible just a couple years ago.

Shortly thereafter, I connected with an old friend and rock star developer, Fabrice Armisen, and the idea for Appallicious was born. Since then, our team has been working tirelessly to create a mobile commerce platform for government to handle ticketing, reservations, permitting, ordering and much more, while using open data to provide incredible access, transparency, and resources for the public navigate all of the services and facilities they didn’t know they had access to.

It has been a lot of work, and incredibly challenging, but we’ve done it. And earlier this year, Appallicious was recognized for what we think is an incredible product — we were named a Silicon Valley Innovation Summit A0250 to Watch Winner. And I am happy to announce that we officially launched the platform today with our first city, San Francisco.

Tell us about the app and how you ended up working with San Francisco.

First things first, I’m a San Franciscan, and our company is based in the city. I really wanted to find a way to help the city I love.

About a year ago, San Francisco Rec & Park General Manager Phil Ginsburg and I met. He said that he wanted to bring the park system into the 21st century with an easy to use mobile app that anybody could use.

We started to talk about features that he wanted from a mobile app, he said it had to include ticketing, reservations, permits, navigation tools for finding the best dog park and it had to be flexible to allow for more features. From our initial conversations I thought the Skipitt™ Platform that we were in the middle of developing would be a perfect fit. He agreed and we’ve been working with the city for the past year on the app.

We are rolling out the app today with some of the features enabled. We’ll be adding many more in the weeks and months ahead.

What are app’s key features?

SFRECPARK makes it easy to find attractions, city parks, playgrounds, dog parks, museums, picnic tables, gardens, restrooms, news and events and more in the palm of your hand. Information is displayed with descriptions and pictures on a GPS enabled mobile map.

A few of the features activated for this release include the ability to search, filter, volunteer, donate and make reservation requests at San Francisco city parks and facilities. There is also location based mapping and directions, information, and social media integration.

Future updates will include mobile ticketing, multi-day park passes, the ordering of concessions, classes, public art, and memberships, walking tours through QR scans and location based technology, and transportation options. Additional features will be rolled out in the weeks and months ahead.

We will also be providing the app for different phone operating systems including Android™ and web mobile.

What are the costs, pricing plans?

The SF Rec & park app is free for anybody to download. Go to Apple’s app store to download it by searching for “San Francisco Rec & Park” or just click here.

How can those interested connect with you?

It’s easy. You can find us on the web at

You can download the SF Rec & Park App for free here.

You can also email me directly at

Today, SF also introduced a new open data law. How important are open data laws for your company’s success?

Open data laws are hugely important for our company. San Francisco’s open data efforts made the SF Rec & Park app possible. We used over 1,000 datasets for parks, playgrounds, dog trails and more to create our maps. We used the city’s transportation datasets for people to get directions to all of the city’s attractions. All of these datasets are available on

More than 70 apps have been developed for residents by civic innovators and companies since the city launched San Francisco’s open data efforts have helped to not only spur the creation of apps for citizens and visitors, but also new civically-minded companies like ours and MomMaps, Routesy and Zonability.

What other cities are you working with?

We’ve started with San Francisco and are now working with a number of different departments including the San Francisco Art Commission (SFarts), and the Department of Public Health. We’re also in discussions with a number of other cities, including Los Angeles and Denver.