Happy birthday, Mr. Data.gov

Redesigned site is more intuitive

On its first birthday tomorrow, May 21, Data.gov will unveil a much-anticipated redesign. In the year since its launch, the site had grown from 47 data sets to more than 250,000. Give people the data and let them innovate — that’s the laudable idea behind Data.gov. Unfortunately, much of the data wasn’t usable, even by developers, as was noted in a discussion of Data.gov earlier this month  at the Open Government and Innovations conference.

Wired.com has shared with its readers a sneak peek of the new Data.gov . U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra told Wired that one of the challenges faced by Data.gov is the outdated technology of the federal government. “We’ve noticed this huge gap in tech investment between the private sector and the public sector,” he said.

The Obama administration has increased outreach to get more people to use Data.gov, hiring Jeanne Holm, former chief knowledge architect for NASA’s jet-propulsion laboratory, as an evangelist for the site. Holm will visit grade schools, high schools and universities, demonstrating how students and teachers can use the datasets.

The redesigned site puts the more popular datasets upfront and puts a search function at the top of each page. Kundra said his vision is “to realize a YouTube for data. You can embed your analysis on a Web site, and the content and presentation layer will stay alive as the data gets updated over time.”

The new site uses visualization software to map and graph data on obesity trends, flight times and earthquakes. The project has also taken a cue from researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute by making use of the semantic Web to make it easier for governmental data to power data mashups.

We’ll be watching closely to see if Data.gov does fulfill its promise of enabling a new world of innovation based on government data. In the discussion of Data.gov at the Open Government and Innovations conference, Steve Drucker, president of Fig Leaf Software, said that the datasets currently available on Data.gov didn’t pass the “mom test,” meaning that his mother wouldn’t be able to glean anything useful from the site.

Now, my mom is 90 years old and still very sharp . She knows Cobol and is talking about starting her own blog. I’m going to run the new Data.gov site past Mom this weekend and see if she finds anything useful there. If she does, then I will say, congratulations, Data.gov. You’ve passed my mom’s test. And believe me, she’s no easy grader.


About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.


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