join me at Urban Geek Drinks

Urban Geek Drinks (UGD) is an informal gathering of people interested in technology and urban issues. There is no agenda and there are no speakers; just a group of like-minded, passionate, nerdy folks who gather over cocktails, sodas, and food to discuss what we’re working on and scheme about what we might work on next. Bring a handful of business cards and your craziest / best ideas.

To celebrate this special occassion, our regular hosts at Villains have offered free appetizers if at least 45 people RSVP. We’re also seeking sponsors; if you or your company would like to buy folks a round of drinks or a bunch of buffalo wings, please contact us directly.

For UGD regulars, you’ll notice that this month an RSVP is required and that list is exposed while the invite list is suppressed. After a year of purely word-of-mouth growth, it’s time to invite a broader circle of folks to geek out.

Please invite your friends and colleagues and feel free to blog, tweet, forward, or otherwise share this event with anyone you think would be interested.

For updates, follow us on Twitter: @urbangeekdrinks.


A Bit of History:

In April 2010, with my wife and I expecting our first daugther in a few months, I wanted to figure out a way to continue networking with friends and colleagues over a cocktail after work – something I usually did three or four times a month. That pace wouldn’t be sustainable once she arrived, so I went through the keyboard in Gmail, inviting whoever auto-completed on each letter and who I thought might be interested. About 50 people were invited and 40 showed up – I quickly realized that Urban Geek Drinks was going to be something amazing.

Since then, there have been 11 events (we skipped January), ranging from about 20 to more than 50 attendees. Until May 2011, the event has been invite only, with an exposed invite list and no RSVP. To mark the one year anniversary, UGD is evolving.

Supporting Public Purpose Applications

This month, I began working with the Metro Chicago Information Center (MCIC) to help them figure out how to share their treasure trove of data about the Chicago region with the rest of the world – more than 100 data sets covering more than a decade. They’ve seen the promised land on the horizon, a rich world of “public purpose applications” powered by data and empowering all sorts of folks to make better decisions in a wide variety of contexts.

But MCIC knows that without access to quality data and technical assistance to understand what the data can and can’t ‘say’, the dangers Lessig has pointed out will limit the impact of this emerging field. Developers should be free to focus on building rich, engaging, and useful applications rather than poring over non-standard metadata or trying to match seasonally with non-seasonally adjusted data sets.

MCIC is uniquely situated to provide both data and technical assistance for many of these applications; from their boilerplate description:

Metro Chicago Information Center (MCIC) is an independent, non-profit organization that provides the highest quality data collection, analysis and consultation to institutions dedicated to investing in communities and enriching lives. Though MCIC does not advocate specific public policies or policy choices, we strive to provide critical information and insight necessary to support human services, cultural programs and overall economic growth. MCIC was founded in 1990 by a consortium of regional business and philanthropic leaders at the Commercial Club of Chicago. MCIC works from a fundamental philosophy that better information produces better decisions.

As a self-described ‘legacy organization’, MCIC has a great deal of work to do in order to start sharing their data library. Figuring out the various licensing requirements based on their sources, standardizing all of the metadata, and building and creating documentation for an API will take a while. There’s also the matter of figuring out how to pay for this new and as of yet unfunded program (suggestions welcome).

MCIC is actively seeking your feedback on what to share, how to share it, and how to provide technical assistance. Below is a list of the data keywords from their catalog – please vote for which you think should be shared first.

Additionally, please leave a comment about how you think the mechanics of this sharing should work; as a developer of public purpose applications, what would make your life easier? How should we provide technical assistance on using this data? Finally, if you have a specific data set you’ve been searching for, drop us a line. If we have it and can, we’ll be happy to share.