One year in, Data.gov fosters massive innovation

Thursday - 5/20/2010, 4:33pm EDT

Vivek Kundra, Federal CIO

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Today on DorobekInsider, we're wishing data.gov a happy birthday!

The site just turned one year old, and Federal CIO Vivek Kundra said a lot has changed during the past year.

"We actually launched data.gov with 47 data sets. What's really exciting about the first anniversary is that we've got over 250,000 data sets, over 97 million hits, hundreds of applications that have been developed by third parties, and a global movement around democratizing data with [other] countries."

The accomplishment really isn't how many hits the site is getting or who's got the most data sets posted, it's about spreading the message of openness and transparency across the world.

Kundra explained that data.gov has propelled new technologies into the daily lives of Americans, and many of them might not even know it.

"Let's just think about what it means to put data out there. For example, when the Department of Defense made the decision to release data around satellites a lot of people might have said, 'Who cares?' -- or when the human genome project, led by the National Institutes of Health and other world bodies, released the gene sequencing data publicly, there were critics who said 'Who cares?'. What happened out of both of those efforts is, today, when you and I go into a new town or city, we're able to use . . . GPS devices that help us navigate a new city. The breakthroughs in scientific discovery as the result of [NIH] to democratize information led to personalized medicine in ways that we've never imagined before."

In addition to technological innovation, communities have been born. The site is allowing people to talk to each other and share ideas in ways that they weren't able to before one specific forum existed.

"As we're democratizing data, what's happening is we're linking open data. So, data from the U.K. To data in the United States to data at the World Bank to data in the city of New York [and] anyone can actually slice and dice information and share it with colleagues, researchers and friends in the same way we share YouTube videos today. That's the promise of data.gov."

Communities, such as the Sunlight Foundation, have taken a huge advantage of the site during the past year. That group even launched a competition of its own, encouraging the general public to use what's on data.gov to create applications that make people's lives easier.

Flyontime.us, for example, shows people average wait times at airports. It's not akin to a cure for cancer, but, chances are it has made the lives of many people much less stressful.

The first anniversary of data.gov also means a relaunch for the site.

Kundra explains that the platform has been reworked and more information is available than ever before, "New data sets, geographic tagging, the ability to link to data across multiple countries, the Web initiatives, the 200-plus applications that are online . . . it's a fundamental reengineering of the entire platform."

Data.gov isn't designed to simply collect, well, data either. Kundra says one of the goals is to get feedback from the public -- the people who are actually using the data for whatever reason.

"People are letting us know [about] the quality of the data, issues with the data, because if the data lives in a big, black box where no one knows there's a problem, what we're going to do is just propagate a culture and an environment of secrecy and closed government. What democratizing this data allows us to do is actually improve it and get real-time feedback so that we can improve the quality of the data."

So, the initial goal was to collect data. Now, however, data.gov has emerged and expanded as a place that's much more important than most websites.

"It's a platform for innovation. For the average person, what they're going to use is the applications that are created as a result of the data.gov platform. Microsoft, for example, created an application that allows individuals to look for jobs near where they're standing on the Azure platform. We've seen third parties create applications on the iPhone that allow you to see the latest products that have been recalled. We've seen a number of other applications that have been created."

The real measure of success, he says, are those applications that have been created -- or will be created -- because data.gov is out there collecting information.

Read more:

Meet the wizard behind the data.gov curtain

Federal CIO Vivek Kundra reflects on first-year progress