[wdmmg-discuss] Working with OpenSpending platform from my perspective

Peio Popov peio at peio.org
Thu Aug 4 13:03:36 UTC 2011

Dear list,
In order to help data cartographer's education and make the
introduction to Openspending platform easier, I would like to describe
my experience with it.

 First - to introduce myself. My name is Peio Popov, I am from
Bulgaria and usually act as a legal adviser for IT companies. I
consider myself a person with a good IT background and general
understanding of computers.  I've worked for IBM, biggest mobile
operator in Bulgaria, payment system operator, mobile payments
provider and certification authority. The payment and PKI related
companies were start-ups so I did way more than legal stuff, including
acting as PM, business developer and PKI services manager. Since 2003
I work on Linux whenever possible and can solve my coding problems in
bash, php, perl and python.

This background did not help a lot and I had hard time understanding
and using the platform. Here were the main hurdles:

1. Denormalized data. I spend more than an hour looking for a way to
describe the nested levels in the raw data. I've always been told that
I should normalize my data and if Rufus was not there to explain, I
could never figured it out myself. It just seemed wrong to waste space
like that. So please mention it when you speak about csv - it is not
just a format to contain, but also a way to describe data.

2. JSON. I did not feel very comfortable with it and it was good that
I could use the model from the Israeli budget as a template. Looking
at the model and then at the result helped me understand it better
than the description in the wiki. It would be very helpful to have a
JSON template with the main sections and an example of a typical
record in it. I might propose one if you like the idea. Also any
recommendation for an editor and syntax checker/highlighter is

3. Decentralized info. Initially I was a bit confused between the OKFN
sites. I wanted to achieve something like WDMMG, but I was told I need
to look into Openspending, starting from CKAN. In the meantime I
wandered to sites like Open Data Commons and Open Government data and
OKFN site. I believe I found the wiki with google and there was the
loading diagram. So please, link more to it - it is very helpful.

4. Loading data. I used the irc based loading protocol and it worked
good, but can be made better. The data wranglers should be able to
help share this responsibility, because it is not always possible to
interrupt your work to answer a question from a confused newbie.
Thanks to borior and pudo's irc support I was able to not only load
the data but also understand some of the platform concepts. I hope to
contribute back and make their time with me well spend.

5. Bubbles. As childish as it may sound I wanted the bubbles
visualization from the very start. It was only because of pudo's hints
and links that I could find the examples and the documentation. More
links, more docs more functioning examples would be great. If I can do
more visualizations, it would be even better.

6. People. At this point the usage of the platform is very dependant
on human interaction. I would have been lost if I had to rely on the
published info to use it. Using irc  support has obvious downsides,
but it allowed me to somehow get more into the idea and should thank
borior and pudo for it.

7. The result. As I've told you and wished on irc, this time i would
not ask another stupid question, but will present the result - a
visualisation of the Bulgarian budget spendings:
http://peio.org/bgbudget/bubbles/bgbudget.html I hope to present it to
some politicians in order to get promises for more data and perhaps
even get the promises fulfilled.

Peio Popov

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