Open government data starts making sense

FCC online mapping site helps put spreadsheets into perspective instantly

The problem with government transparency is that it's too often opaque. That is, a large amount of data presents a daunting challenge to anyone trying to find useful information in it.

The Federal Communications Commission is looking to address that, launching an online mapping site that lets people quickly map data and easily share it through social networks. lets users copy, paste and map data, going from a spreadsheet to a shareable map in less than 60 seconds, FCC officials said.

“Maps are a data visualization tool that can fix a rotten spreadsheet by making the data real and rich with context,” Michael Byrne, the FCC's first geographic information officer, wrote in an FCC blog Feb. 7.

“By showing how data -- and the decisions that produce data -- affect people where they live, a map can make the difference between a blank stare and a knowing nod,” Byrne wrote.

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The Open Government Directive of 2009 brought about the release of massive amounts of tabular government data. However, without a simple way to visualize and add context to this data, it has remained largely untapped by the public.

IssueMap’s intuitive mapping interface lets people and decision-makers engage with this data for better understanding of the issues affecting their communities, Byrne said.

IssueMap has been a long time in coming. “As a board member with the National States Geographic Information Council, some colleagues and I identified the need for a product that would produce maps from complicated data steps in just three steps: copy, paste, map,” Byrne wrote.

IssueMap is that product, Byrne added.

IssueMap is built on FortiusOne’s GeoIQ, a user-friendly data management, visualization and analysis platform. It lets users visualize data from the FCC and other government databases as well as citizen–collected data. They can upload spreadsheet data and create a map for sharing with their community members, policy-makers and legislators.

FortiusOne built GeoIQ so nontechnical users could easily make sense of data, said Sean Gorman, president and founder of FortiusOne. IssueMap capitalizes on those core capabilities, he said.

A video that shows IssueMap in action is embedded within Byrne’s blog. Byrne encouraged users to check out the video and then visit

“You can use the social media functionality in IssueMap to share your map with your community, or even export in a [Keyhole Markup Language] file to mash up your map [with] other online services,” he wrote. Byrne also encouraged users to leave links to their maps in the comments section of the blog.

The FCC also wants to hear from users about other capabilities they want to see in the next iteration of IssueMap.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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Reader comments

Sun, Mar 6, 2011 RLoftin

IssueMap sounds like some really interesting technology. However, I find it hard to believe that any single tool will meet the visualization needs of any substantial amount of people that need access to the data. I would like to see the government sponsor more competitions to develop apps that use government data.

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