Some companies are increasingly closing their APIs and locking down their data with the aim to figure out how to monetize it (see twitter for instance). The government, however, is doing the opposite. It's actively creating API's to make government more transparent and accessible. This is creating new opportunities for businesses who are willing to make sense of and transform the data into something valuable for a particular market. These new opportunities and the lessons learned by those in the trenches was the theme for Data Business DC's (DBDC's) second meetup Money For Nothing -- Productizing Government Data. Presenters ranged from the small, one-person startup using government data as the foundation of the business to a senior government official talking about the challenges, successes, and opportunities of using government data.
Josh Hurd, founder of Fedalytics, was the first speaker of the night. Fedalytics provides a tool for lobbyists and other interested parties to gain a unified view of politicians and politically orientated organizations. The problem Josh solves is that this data is spread throughout a number of government databases and files that in the past required tremendous effort to clean, combine, use, and present. Josh makes it easy for users to get the information and results they need - quickly.
Next up was Matthew Eierman of HDScores whose business harmonizes health department data like restaurant inspections. If you've ever been to New York City, you might have noticed that every restaurant has a score prominently displayed right next to the door, mandated by government regulation. Matthew mentioned that once the regulations went into effect, health sanitation restaurant closings went down by 15%. However, while that's cool, not every municipality or state does this. Moreover, each government entity has different formats and ways of distributing this information. HDScores does the hard job of compiling and harmonizing this data so that consumers can get the information they need to make good decisions. Check out their website to see which restaurants near you might by sketchy -- you might be surprised!
Our last speaker of the night was Brian Forde, Senior Advisor to the U.S. CTO of Mobile and Data Innovation. He talked about a number of ways government data is saving lives and making a difference. One story in particular was about how the government, businesses, high school students, and hackers came together to coordinate relief efforts for Hurricane Sandy. High schools identified identified open gas stations via twitter posts, businesses, like Hess, provided near real time data on which stations still had gas, and hackers helped pull all ofvthe disparate parts together. The end result was a site that helped citizens affected by Sandy find where they could by gas.
The more important point Brian wanted to make was that the government is working hard to make data more transparent and accessible. With that in mind, he encouraged the audience to contact him about government data sources that need to be machine readable for inclusion in apps. If you know of any data that needs liberation, contact him at bforde [[at]] ostp.eop.gov . Lastly, he also encouraged us all to check out http://www.data.gov/ and http://challenge.gov/, two government sites designed to free data and solve tough problems.
In sum, it was a great evening of learning from both the folks who are using government data and those within the government who are working hard to make it easier to access and use such data. I encourage you to check out these awesome companies and reach out to Brian if you know of government data sources that need to be machine readable.
- Brian Forde
- bforde [[at]] ostp.eop.gov