Strong opinions, weakly held

A Web 2.0 perspective on open government

Ed Felten and some co-authors have written a paper discussing a more modern approach to open government. They suggest that the best approach is that rather than government agencies focusing on building Web sites that provide access to government data, they should focus on providing the data itself in an open format so that it can be utilized by anyone.

Here’s the meat of the proposal:

Rather than struggling, as it currently does, to design sites that meet each end-user need, it should focus on creating a simple, reliable and publicly accessible infrastructure that “exposes” the underlying data. Private actors, either nonprofit or commercial, are better suited to deliver government information to citizens and can constantly create and reshape the tools individuals use to find and leverage public data. The best way to ensure that the government allows private parties to compete on equal terms in the provision of government data is to require that federal websites themselves use the same open systems for accessing the underlying data as they make available to the public at large.

Sounds like a great idea to me. I love the idea of forcing government agencies to eat their own dog food in order to propel this kind of approach.


  1. Patrick Berry

    June 2, 2008 at 9:26 pm

    Obama talked about that very point when he was at Google. The folks there were, as you might expect, ecstatic.

  2. The danger of leaving this all to third parties and not having an official interface would be the temptation to skew the results to fit the ideology of the site owner.

    Can you imagine Thomas being run by Faux News?

  3. I think the government would obviously provide its own front ends for important services, the more important point is that the data would be provided so that anyone else could use the information in useful and interesting ways. I’m OK with Fox News having its own interface for presenting Congressional legislation and votes as long as everyone else has the same opportunity.

  4. I’d like to see that accompanied with something like the e-petitions site they have in the U.K., sort of a Ideastorm for Government.

    This is not to diminish Felten’s ideas in the slightest. Open government should go both ways: the people should get better access to government while the government gets better access to its people. Web 2.0 might just help us with both directions.

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