Mix & Mash 2010

December 12, 2010

I’m well overdue a post or two about what we’re up to at Southgate Labs. Hopefully there will be time for that in the not too distant future.

In the meantime, a quick “Woo hoo!” on behalf of the team for a couple of awards announced this week …

We’re pleased to be part of the Summer of Tech programme this year. As part of this we have two second-year university students working with us – Nick & Amanda. We were lucky to interview some outstanding candidates for these roles, and in the end were extremely picky, but excited to get our first choice in each case.

One of the projects we got them started on right away was an entry for the Mix & Mash competition run by DigitalNZ.

Our company entry, which won the Best Open Government Service section, is an iPad app called MP Playing Cards. Here is the description from the entry on the site:

This mash-up is a light-hearted iPad app with an underlying web service, combining statistical data about the current Members of Parliament from a number of different sources, from Hansard to Twitter.

Many of us grew up collecting All Blacks playing cards out of Weetbix packets, and then comparing their vital, but ultimately meaningless, statistics with our friends to see which player was the best. For some reason, there has never been an edition for MPs. Well, now there is!

It’s simple to play. Select two MPs and find out the winner. You can play by yourself, or with a friend, by each choosing one MP. The application uses a complex formula to determine the winning MP. Preference is given to members who are active on Twitter, those who don’t spend too much and who don’t cause trouble in the debating chamber – the application awards yellow cards to Members who raise points of order and red cards to those who have been asked to leave. The results will even show you the Members most frequently used words from speeches.

Underneath this silliness there is a serious question: how should we measure the performance of our elected representatives? The media often seems to encourage focus on travel and accommodation spending, public outbursts and controversy, and other such measures. This mash-up takes that sensationalist approach to the extreme. But is there another approach that might yield better results?

The data used in this app comes from public Twitter profiles and from the New Zealand Parliament website, specifically Debates, Expenses & Bills.

This app is in two parts: 1) an underlying JSON web service which you’re welcome to use for your own purposes. I think there are potentially quite a few interesting apps that could be build on top of the words most frequently used in speeches by each MP; and 2) an iPad app that provides the game engine and some fun graphics and animation (I even managed to squeeze a cheesy audio file in there!)

We’re hoping to make this available in the App Store soon, so I will update the link on here as soon as it’s ready for you to download.

Nick & Amanda, for their sins, also put together a second entry based on an old blog post I wrote here back in 2008.

They created a great one-page visualisation of this idea: Tax Statement 2010

Enter your income, and the site calculates how much tax you pay, itemised by government department, based on the allocations announced in the budget.

They even created a separate stylesheet so that it looks and works great on the small screen of a mobile device.

They did an excellent job, and I’m pleased they got the recognition by winning the Best Newbie Mashup section. To borrow from the judges comments:

Tax Receipt 2010 is simple in concept, presentation and design but incredibly powerful. It addresses a single question, “How is my tax being spent?” and provides straightforward answers. The information is summarised and presented clearly and simply. The visualisation is powerful because it provides a personal context for the nation’s spending. It’s a great conversation starter around public expenditure.

Hopefully you find both of these little apps interesting, or at least entertaining.


UPDATE (14-Dec):

Here is TV3 Nightline’s take on the Mix & Mash competition:

Can you make Government data creative?

UPDATE (19-Dec):

Here is a Radio NZ story on the competition:

Arts on Sunday, 19 December

UPDATE (23-Dec):

The MP Playing Cards iPad app is now available in the app store!