Building a Word Cloud Using D3.js for Data Analysis with CivicData

I recently came across an incredible resource, Learn JS Data, a guide that teaches the basics of manipulating data using JavaScript in the browser put together by the team at Bocoup.  The guide is a quick read and covers topics ranging from reading in data to advanced techniques of analyzing data all using the core JavaScript API and the d3.js library. D3.js is an incredible JavaScript library for manipulating documents based on data mostly known for giving you the full capabilities of modern browsers to produce powerful visualization components.

What I learned through this guide is d3.js also contains some incredible data analysis tools to simplify many common data operations. Armed with this new found knowledge I decided to tackle a data visualization I have been wanting to pursue for a while, the word cloud. I’ve always thought it would be interesting to visualize permits descriptions from a given set of time using a word cloud.

As defined by wikipedia a word cloud is:

… a visual representation for text data, typically used to depict keyword metadata (tags) on websites, or to visualize free form text. Tags are usually single words, and the importance of each tag is shown with font size or color.

In the context of building permit descriptions here is what our word cloud will look like once complete:

Word Cloud

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Visualizing Boston at HubHacks 2

The City of Boston is running a visualization contest, encouraging people to use open data to “highlight trends, opportunities, and decision points, and providing deeper insight for the City and better transparency to citizens.”


Called HubHacks 2, the event is a follow up to a similar event last fall focused on creating new apps to support the city’s permitting process. I had an opportunity to participate in the previous HubHacks event, and Accela is a sponsor of HubHacks 2.

The kickoff event this weekend in Boston at District Hall was packed with local civic hackers and innovators, and the City of Boston used the event to unveil a few dozen new open data sets.



While I used the event to hack together one view of Winter in Boston using 311 data, I also had a chance to speak with officials from the city (who were ubiquitously present at the event in red shirts, and enormously helpful to all of the participants) about a new open data standard for permit data that Accela is working on with other technology partners.

This event is just one indication of what the City of Boston is doing to leverage the talents of its local technology community to help create new solutions and new visualizations to give people a deeper understanding of how their city works and engage with city officials. It’s worth noting that as part of its strategy, the city is making open data and civic hacking a centerpiece.

We at Accela are very proud to support the City of Boston’s innovation agenda. We’re looking forward to seeing all of the great ideas that participants come up with, and we’re excited for the winners to be announced on April 4th.

Hacking with Open Oakland

Open Oakland is one of the most vibrant and active Code for America Brigades in the country, and last night we had the pleasure of joining members for their weekly hack night.

Open Oakland is somewhat unique in that it brings civic hacking directly into the heart of city government – holding it’s weekly meetups inside Oakland City Hall. The event last night saw a large turnout of civic hackers all actively engaged on a number of interesting projects.

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The Power of Permit Data

December and January tend to be the most retrospective time of the year, a time when we look back over the previous year to see what we’ve accomplished.


And since we typically think about open data and government operations around the clock at Accela, we thought it would be interesting to look back at one view of government operations during 2014 using open data from the CivicData platform.

With this in mind, we built Permit Review, an open data application that provides a view of six governments and their handling of building permits in 2014 (as compared to the previous year).

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Announcing Accela Connect

Accela Connect is a a 4-day event taking place in early March that will bring together developers, business partners, customers and Accela staff to discuss ways that we can strengthen the civic technology ecosystem and create new linkages between governments and those that we serve.


The event is being held at the Resort at Squaw Creek in Olympic Valley, CA from March 1st – 4th and will include leaders in the civic technology space from across the country.

Don’t miss this opportunity to spend time with thought leaders in the civic space, state and local government officials and Accela staff as we discuss civic innovation and best practices in open data and civic engagement.

Register today.

Adventures in Open Data ETL

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure to speak at the Code for America Summit about work that Accela is doing to help the City of Evanston, IL publish it’s restaurant inspection data in LIVES format.

The benefits of publishing data in standard formats is becoming clearer, but many governments still have questions about how it is done. In the next few posts, I want to walk through the mechanics of taking data from Accela Automation and publishing it to an open data portal, and then using that open data to create a LIVES-compliant data feed.

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Data Standards, Restaurant Scores, SMS and 50 Lines of Code

We can all agree that we are at the early stages of governments publishing open data in accordance with data standard specifications.  The value of data standards are well documented and this is not a post that is intended highlight these.  The fact is that currently only a small number of governments are participating in data standard adoption to date – one explanation for this is that the potential benefits of doing so are not always clear.

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