Talk of the Town: Discovering Open Public Data via Voice Assistants (Short Paper)

Authors Sara Lafia , Jingyi Xiao, Thomas Hervey , Werner Kuhn

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Author Details

Sara Lafia
  • Department of Geography, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA
Jingyi Xiao
  • Department of Geography, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA
Thomas Hervey
  • Department of Geography, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA
Werner Kuhn
  • Department of Geography, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA


The work presented in this paper resulted from a graduate research seminar at the UCSB Department of Geography. Feedback from Behzad Vahedi and Gengchen Mai is gratefully acknowledged. The work was supported by the UCSB Center for Spatial Studies.

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Sara Lafia, Jingyi Xiao, Thomas Hervey, and Werner Kuhn. Talk of the Town: Discovering Open Public Data via Voice Assistants (Short Paper). In 14th International Conference on Spatial Information Theory (COSIT 2019). Leibniz International Proceedings in Informatics (LIPIcs), Volume 142, pp. 10:1-10:7, Schloss Dagstuhl – Leibniz-Zentrum für Informatik (2019)


Access to public data in the United States and elsewhere has steadily increased as governments have launched geospatially-enabled web portals like Socrata, CKAN, and Esri Hub. However, data discovery in these portals remains a challenge for the average user. Differences between users' colloquial search terms and authoritative metadata impede data discovery. For example, a motivated user with expertise can leverage valuable public data about transportation, real estate values, and crime, yet it remains difficult for the average user to discover and leverage data. To close this gap, community dashboards that use public data are being developed to track initiatives for public consumption; however, dashboards still require users to discover and interpret data. Alternatively, local governments are now developing data discovery systems that use voice assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Home as conversational interfaces to public data portals. We explore these emerging technologies, examining the application areas they are designed to address and the degree to which they currently leverage existing open public geospatial data. In the context of ongoing technological advances, we envision using core concepts of spatial information to organize the geospatial themes of data exposed through voice assistant applications. This will allow us to curate them for improved discovery, ultimately supporting more meaningful user questions and their translation into spatial computations.

Subject Classification

ACM Subject Classification
  • Information systems → Service discovery and interfaces
  • data discovery
  • open public data
  • voice assistants
  • essential model
  • GIS


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