Information will set you free. Or so the adage goes. It's also said that information wants to be free. These perspectives converge at a new open data portal on data.gov, where a shared platform allows cities from across the country to make available their streams of information to anyone with Internet access and a few minutes to nose around. And Seattle is one of the first four cities to jump aboard.
The Atlantic Cities describes the endeavor:
The new clearinghouse features thousands of openly accessible data streams, including information on building permits filed in these cities, a regularly updated feed of Seattle Fire Department 911 dispatches, budget documents and tons of maps of things like parks, film locations and building footprints.
Chicago has 1,826 data feeds on the site, New York has 1,087, Seattle has 711, and San Francisco has 310. The federal government has made 6,560 of their own available.
It's part of an effort to democratize the public data streams that governments collect, putting them into the hands of citizens. More pointedly, these open data efforts are aimed at civic-minded computer programmers who might be interested in turning these raw data streams into useful websites or mobile applications.
D'Anne Mount with Seattle's Department of Information Technology says Seattle launched data.seattle.gov in early 2010, and joined the cities.data.gov venture at the beginning of this year. Mount, seeming excited to discuss the matter, notes that as far back as February 2006 Seattle had My Neighborhood Map, which she describes as an "interactive mapping application, to open data to the public."
While the information Seattle makes available via data.gov.cities is also readily available through data.seattle.gov -- which has been up and running since 2010 -- Mount still sees many benefits to the city's involvement in the national effort.
"Data.gov opens up government to researchers, developers, decision makers and the general public; it increases awareness and visibility of available data streams to a broader audience. It also provides a centralized repository for developers and citizens to find data without needing to visit individual sites," writes Mount via email. "The centralized repository is a means to encourage similarities across datasets from different jurisdictions so that a developer can develop against a common platform while providing a resource that applies to multiple locales."
As mentioned, Mount seemed noticeably excited to discuss these fairly nerdy facets of Seattle's data sharing. I soon discovered one of the reasons why. It seems on Aug. 1 the city, partnering with the county and state, launched a statewide apps contest called the Evergreen Apps Challenge. According to Mount, the contest, which is specifically intended to promote the use of open data, is designed to foster "the development of applications using government open data to stimulate economic development."