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Data.gov opens


The eagerly awaited data.gov site launched this week, ushering in a new area of openness and transparency throughout the federal government. Federal CIO, Vivek Kundra announced the site as a platform to democratize government data by stimulating the creation of innovative applications and visualizations.

Kundra’s aim is for the government to tap into the ingenuity and ideas of the public to exploit information held by government agencies and institutions. He wants others to create new applications, conduct research and come up with new ideas to transform the way government works.

Data.gov is going to democratize data that the taxpayer has already paid for…It is fundamental to the President’s commitment to a transparent and open government. It lifts the veil on how your government works… and is going to be fundamental to driving transparency, innovation and lowering the cost of government operations.


The site launched with dozens of datsets consisting of raw data in machine readable formats e.g. XML, Text/CSV, KML/KMZ, Feeds and XML. Along with this the public is invited to suggest datasets to be added to the site. The current data catalogs include:

  • Environmentally-relevant data (copper smelters, energy usages, brownfields, soil geochemistries, clean air statuses, weather trends, earthquakes, etc.)
  • Demographic data (earnings, ages, etc.)
  • National income and accounts (Gross Domestic Products, income levels, etc.)
  • Regulatory alerts
  • Patent applications and grant information

Vivek Kundra’s interview on Federal news radio explains how more and more information will be added to the site over the coming months and years. Indeed, he expects over 240,000 data sets to be added from a wide range of agencies and departments across the federal government.

The majority of the data sets on the site (see Sunlight labs chart) are from the US Geological Survey, but Kundra expects more data to be added in relation to healthcare and energy.

He mentions how the Sunlight Foundation has launched a competition, called Apps for America 2, to see what applications/visualizations citizens can develop from the information on Data.gov. This crowdsourcing of ideas and inventions from the public is the exactly the kind of activity Kundra is trying to promote through the site. Public participation, analysis and exploitation of the data is encouraged, and re-reinforces Kundra’s view that the government does not have a monopoly on how it’s/our data is best represented.

Open Government needs you

Data.gov is a major milestone in the Obama administration’s Open Government Initiative. Indeed, its launch coincided with the White House’s other initiative for a more open government. Whitehouse.gov now includes an Open Government section highlighting process on this directive. It includes a link for the public to submit ideas, a blog and an innovations gallery that features other federal transparency projects.

The Office of Science and Technology Policy has launched a three phase approach to develop recommendations on how to make the government more transparent. Public participation is integral to the open government roadmap, and the solicitation of ideas is a cornerstone for progress in this area.

  • Phase 1 seeks ideas and suggestions from the public on how to make government more open. The public can submit and vote on ideas at http://opengov.ideascale.com. Hundreds of ideas have already been submitted in the areas of Transparency, Participation and Collaboration.
  • Phase 2 is a discussion and in-depth analysis of the ideas and suggestions submitted during the brainstorm stage. The feasibility and value of ideas will be discussed, with a view on how best they contribute to the President’s objective of a more transparent and open government.
  • Phase 3 is concerned with drafting proposals to implement the most relevant ideas from phase 2.

The plan outlined above is similar in scope to the National Dialog on how to improve Recovery.gov. Seeking the public’s input and ideas for improving government is a central tenent of Vivek Kundra and Aneesh Chopera’s mission towards fulfilling the goals of President Barack Obama’s memorandum on transparency and open government.

The confirmation of Aneesh Chopra this week to the role of federal CTO will help develop and embed this directive throughout the federal government. Data.gov and the Open Government Initiative are an exciting start to this transformation. Their success, and the mashups/ideas they generate, will be a measure of how the public wants to participate in helping to improve government. It’s now over to us – the public – to engage and demonstrate what can be done with open date.

The first applications built on this data has already arrived (see FBI Fugitive Concentration). It’s exciting to see how an ecology of innovation will develop based on this data. What’s certain is government data, and its visualization are about to get a lot more interesting.

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