A Pandemic, Open APIs and Citizen Science: Its 2020 baby!

Human societies have been hit by pandemics through the ages and relied on the central governing authorities to manage the crisis and disseminate information. I believe this time around with COVID-19, our societies have access to more information from our governments because we have the internet

If this pandemic is an evolutionary challenge, then our response as a species to survive it will come through innovations in medicine, healthcare and technology. Not only will we improve on our lead time to develope vaccines as responses to viruses evolving and but also accelerate key technologies which will help us respond to global challenges as a whole

The internet has allowed governing agencies to share information the spread of COVID-19 in our communities through APIs a common channel in a clean, standardised, versioned, structured and self-describing manner leading to easier consumption by citizen and fuelling the rise of “citizen data scientists

I argue this democratisation of pandemic data via APIs and its consumption leads to new learning opportunities, increased awareness of the spread of the disease, verification of information, better social response and innovation through crowdsourcing

Open Data: NSW Health

The https://data.nsw.gov.au/ provides access to state health data in NSW Australia and in March 2020 provided information about COVID-19 cases on their site here. This website provides a very standardised approach to sharing this information, with metadata in JSON, RDF and XML for different consumers and links to the actual data within the metadata documents

Here is a screen shot of the actual data site

I particularly loved the structure of the JSON metadata because it is quite self-describing, leading to a link to the document with the COVID-19 data

Rise of the consumer: Our Citizen Scientist

It did not take long for someone to come along, parse that information and present to us in a portal we can all relate to. During the early days of the pandemic, I was hooked onto https://www.covid19data.com.au/ and it provided me with Australia / NSW wide information about the spread, categories etc

However it was Ethan’s site that I loved the most as a “local consumer” to see what is happening in my postcode – the website here https://covid19nsw.ethan.link/ is a brilliant example of the citizen science and is sourced from the NSW Health open data link above

Notice the URL and NSW Health agency did not built the portal – it was a this amazing person named Ethan


2020 is an interesting time in our history. We have the pandemic of our era but also better tools to understand its spread. The internet and standardised APIs are at the front and center of this information sharing and consumption

Everyone has the ability now to download information about the spread of the pandemic with time, geolocation and size embedded in this dataset. Everyone now have the ability to write programs to parse this dataset and do their own science on it

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