Data expert to feds: Open wide—or fail

Agencies should focus on providing usable data rather than displaying it, data mapping expert says

Efforts by government agencies at all levels to be transparent and share information should focus more on making the data accessible than on creating applications that display the information, a data mapping expert said today in New York at the Web 2.0 Expo.

Making government data more usable and accurate is the best way to achieve transparency goals, said Eric Gundersen, president of Development Seed, an online communications consulting organization.

“When you’ve got data out there that’s accessible and current, the marketplace will access that data where it makes sense,” Gundersen said. “You will have all these independent Web developers, nonprofits, local governments that can all get access to it and use it.”

For example, engineers at Development Seed used data provided by the District of Columbia's government to create a Web application that maps crime data over the locations of popular bars in the city. Stumble Safely was developed for the city’s Apps for Democracy competition and was intended to be a fun application, but local police ended up finding it useful, Gundersen said.

“It was the first time they ever saw data like this on a map,” he said.

Ten years ago providing raw data to the public would not have been valuable because it was so expensive develop the applications to use it, and to acquire the hardware to process it, he said. Today, open source software and inexpensive computing power means almost any organization or individual can effectively use the data, Gundersen said.

Stumble Safely was built entirely with open source software that included Drupal, a content management system, and Mapnik, a mapping toolkit.

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Federal Computer Week.

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