All posts tagged ‘government’

File Under: Databases

Open Data’s Access Problem, and How to Solve it

The recent Gov 2.0 summit in Washington D.C. saw several promising new announcements which will help government agencies share code and best practices for making public data available to developers.

The idea behind new projects like, the FCC’s new developer tools and the Civic Commons is that by giving developers access to data previously stored in dusty filing cabinets, they can create tools to give ordinary citizens greater access to that data.

Unfortunately, not everything open data project leads to good things. It is critical that if open data is made available on the web, it must be accompanied by some effort to ensure everyone can access it.

We’ve seen an explosion in creative hacks that use this newly available data to provide excellent online resources. Public data sites like EveryBlock, or the Sunlight Foundation’s Design for America contest have highlighted some of the amazing ways open data can make our lives better. Whether it’s finding out crime stats, real estate values, health hazards and business license statuses in your neighborhood, or visualizing how the government is spending your tax dollars through innovative maps, open data and what you can do with it is the current hotness among web developers.

Most of the benefits are close to home — in the U.S., just about everyone has access to online government resources thanks to web-enabled computers in free public libraries.

But extend that argument to the rest of the world and the number of people that really have access to the data drops significantly. If you don’t have an easy way to get online, you can’t benefit from open data.

Michael Gurstein, Executive Director of the Center for Community Informatics Research, recently highlighted some of the problems with open data accessibility.

Gurstein points out a number of assumptions about open data that are often overlooked by those most enthusiastic about making such data publicly available.

Worse, he shows how such data can be used against you.

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File Under: Uncategorized

UK Says ‘Show Us a Better Way’ With Mashups

The UK Power of Information Taskforce is challenging developers to mash up their public data. Today it launched Show Us a Better Way, collecting ideas and offering £20,000 (about $40,000) to develop the best ones. There have already been 50 ideas submitted. The list of ideas is public. Those outside of the UK appear to be eligible, as long as the idea is put to use in the UK.

The taskforce describes the release as “gigabytes of new or previously invisible public information.” The data is from census, health care and education sources. Data is aggregated and does not contain any personal information.

This public information release should be a welcome news to mashup artists, whose work is sometimes restricted by the amount of data available. It is also a welcome sign that a government group understands it may not have all the answers. While releasing data is common, encouraging people to use it, and rewarding them for contributions, is not.

Among the APIs recommended by the taskforce are Google Maps and Flickr. We’re looking forward to seeing what comes of this competition.

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