The last four years have seen an explosion in government “open data” with thousands of datasets posted online for public use. The City of Washington DC, under the leadership of then-CTO Vivek Kundra, was the first to post such data online in a “data catalog”. The effort vastly expanded when President Obama took office and, as one of his very first acts, directed the federal government to be open and transparent. Data.gov now has 172 participating agencies tens of thousands of datasets.
Cities, counties and states have gotten into this “open data” act too – as of this writing 34 states and at least 15 cities and counties have open data sites. And the effort has gone international, with at least 30 nations and other entities posting data.
Data which has been hard to get in the past is now freely available – government employee salaries, crimes, restaurant inspections and even White House visitor logs are now on these websites. Some datasets are updated in real time – in Seattle if you hear a fire engine screaming past your house, chances are the call is already posted to Fire 911 Calls at data.seattle.gov.
Have you ever looked at these datasets? Kinda like big spreadsheets. Sometimes with indecipherable pieces of data like “latitude” and “longitude” instead of street addresses. Useful in research, I guess, and also if you are data or tech geek and majoring in geography is helpful too.
How do most people really consume their information these days?
Apps, of course! And not just smart phone apps, but also table apps, laptop apps, web apps, and even TV apps.
The missing link between open data and usable apps is developers. They create the apps which take the open datasets, make them into apps usable for the typical citizen, and perhaps even mash the data up with other information which might be useful such as a map (plotting those pesky latitudes and longitudes) or traffic information.
Now that data.gov and related sites are online, the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the White House is actively trying to encourage developing such apps by businesses, government employees and, really, anyone with a bit of skill in coding.
Enter the “datapalooza”.
The White House sponsors events they call “datapaloozas” to highlight cool apps which use open data to create information and value for citizens. The next datapalooza is scheduled for Friday September 14th at the White House. It will highlight “public safety” in the broad sense – not just law enforcement and firefighting and emergency medical – but also public health, product safety, transportation, and disaster readiness. It will include not just an “expo” of apps which have already been developed, but also an announcement of new safety data resources about natural disasters and to improve preparedness and emergency response.
A lot of these apps exist already, of course, as a result of apps contests in Washington DC (Apps for Democracy), New York City (Big Apps 3.0), and elsewhere. In fact, I’m presently judging the Evergreen Apps Challenge here in Washington State, with $75,000 in prizes offered by Seattle, King County and the State of Washington – results of that contest will be announced on October 1st.
It will be fascinating to watch results from the “datapalooza” on Friday (alas, I don’t know if it will be live-streamed or not, yet).
And I’ll be blogging more about these results, hoping to see apps not just with a major coolness factor, but also ones useful to keeping you safe every day (think restaurant inspections) as well as during disasters.
If you know of such an app, or have an idea for one looking for development, make a comment to this blog or drop me a line.
Who knows, maybe a “killer government app” is “somewhere, out there”.
Note: Deputy United States Chief Technology Officer Chris Vein spearheads the White House effort. He’s uniquely positioned for this work, as he brought the open data site for the City/County of San Franciso online in his previous position as CIO of the City by the Bay.