By Kevin Merritt

Data.gov Needs to be a Community Effort

Posted August 8th, 2009

Data.gov is barely three months old and it is just beginning to take shape. More than 100,000 thousand feeds have been made available to the public with the promise of tens of thousands more in the not too distant future. After all, there are more than 24,000 different federal websites that post data.

Is Data.gov perfect? No, of course not.

But its first iteration wasn’t meant to be perfect. It was meant to be a start, and it’s a good one. It was optimized for time to market. In a recent visit to the Personal Democracy Forum in NYC, we were able to hear from the data.gov team and they spoke of taking a start-up like approach to getting a site online quickly, even though it might not be perfect, and improving based on citizen feedback. As a startup ourselves, we at Socrata really appreciate this form of execution because it lets the market — in this case US citizens – validate the approach. As long as the data.gov team acts on citizen feedback and iterates quickly, we think they’ll end up with a better offering in the end.

The federal government is certainly making a valiant attempt to put more data online and improve the site, but we all recognize the enhancements that need to be implemented – namely making the data machine readable and easy to access and socialize by non-technical citizens. Yet, are we at the point where competitive sites to data.gov need to be launched to show that the private sector can do it better?

The Sunlight Foundation has announced plans to launch a National Data Catalogue to go above and beyond what data.gov offers. “What we’re doing is taking the concept behind data.gov, which Vivek Kundra’s team has done so wonderfully inside the government, and we’re stealing it. We’re going to do our own data catalogue that can extend, I think, beyond the reach of what the executive branch can do,” Clay Johnson, director of Sunlight Labs, told Federal News Radio.

We applaud the resourcefulness and tenacity of the Sunlight Foundation but believe there is a happy medium. Much of the functionality that the Sunlight Foundation has outlined for its National Data Catalogue is exactly what data.gov needs. Therefore, let’s work with the federal government to augment data.gov. The destination is already there. Now, we need to make it more accessible and social. A consistent theme within 21st century government has been the concept of private-public partnerships. Data.gov is a project where the government, private industry, and non-profit advocacy organizations can work together to create a site that will enable increased citizen participation and the ability to create significant economic stimulus.

Let’s give data.gov a chance by working together to parlay a wide variety of points of views and expertise.

Now isn’t the time to give up on data.gov – it’s a new and ambitious effort — it is the time to put all of our energies behind it.