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Local Governments Offer Data to Software Trackers

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app developer Eric Gundersen

Eric Gundersen, a developer in Washington, D.C., has created an application showing people the safest route home from bars and another that tells people about bike routes.

Credit: Daniel Rosenbaum / The New York Times

Local governments are trying to make government data more accessible to citizens, and some are turning over data to programmers to make it more usable. One example is Stumble Safely, a Web site that combines Washington, D.C., crime reports with information on sidewalks, bars, and subway stations so a person can map out the least dangerous route home at night. Proponents say that such initiatives can help citizens evaluate government performance.

"It will change the way citizens and government interact, but perhaps most important, it's going to change the way elected officials and civil servants deliver programs, services, and promises," predicts San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

By distributing data in easy-to-use formats, states and cities hope that people will generate sites or applications that use the information in ways never considered by local government. "The timing now with the open data movement is really critical because there are a lot of open source tools that really make that data usable," says Eric Gundersen, who helped create the Stumble Safely site.

Governments are attempting to make the process of opening up data more open by requesting that people vote for what data sets they want made available. However, there has been resistance from certain government agencies and officials who find the notion of opening up data sets to programmers tantamount to allowing exploitation of information for purely entrepreneurial purposes.

Meanwhile, San Francisco, New York, and Washington, D.C. have hosted contests to encourage software developers to produce applications with their data, and the developers are using the data to build businesses.

From The New York Times
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Abstracts Copyright © 2009 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA


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