NY Times Article on Local Governments Opening Data

The New York Times has a great article today about how local governments are following data.gov’s lead and opening their data. DC, San Francisco, and now New York City have done this, then have ‘App Contests’ to garner great uses of the data from world-wide developers.

A good summary of the goal:

Many local governments are figuring out how to use the Internet to make government data more accessible. The goal is to spawn useful Web sites and mobile applications — and perhaps even have people think differently about their city and its government.

A discussion of the format. Of course we think the OMG Standard format is the best way to release the data.

By releasing data in easy-to-use formats, cities and states hope that people will create sites or applications that use it in ways City Hall never would have considered.

And there are some interesting tidbits about the issues and challenges with getting access to public data. Bold emphasis added.

Still, asking for the data is often not enough. Software developers in New York have been unsuccessful in getting data feeds of pedestrian and bicyclist injuries and fatalities from the Police Department, said Noel Hidalgo, who is director of technology innovation for the New York State Senate and has been working with developers on building city-data applications. He envisions applications that overlay accident information on city bike maps.

Paul J. Browne, a deputy commissioner of the New York City Police Department, said it releases information about individual accidents to journalists and others who request it, but would not provide software developers with a regularly updated feed. “We provide public information, not data flow for entrepreneurs,” he said.

There have been other scuffles over who has the right to data. Routesy, an iPhone application, uses data from San Francisco’s Municipal Transportation Agency to show train and bus schedules and locate stations on a map. It stopped working for a while because a private contractor working with the agency wanted to charge a licensing fee for the information. The agency now requires its contractor, NextBus, to make the data freely available.

There is evidence that governments’ attitude toward publicizing data is changing. Two years ago, when a Web design and research firm called Stamen Design started a Web site, Crimespotting, that mapped crime data for Oakland, Calif., the city cut off access to the data a week after the site went up.

Bob Glaze, the city’s chief technology officer, said the frequent data requests from the site were disrupting the city’s own crime site. The city eventually changed its mind. And in August, Stamen’s designers unveiled a San Francisco version of Crimespotting with Mayor Newsom at their side.

These open data contest are a good thing for everyone: the city releasing the data, the developers using the data, and the citizens who get access to new information. Let’s keep it up.

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