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5/21/2009
02:39 PM
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Federal Government Launches Data.Gov

The site, managed by CIO Vivek Kundra, is intended to let businesses, organizations, and consumers access large sets of government data.

The federal government on Thursday launched Data.gov, intended to let organizations, businesses, and even consumers search large data sets of government information.

The site, launched by the office of federal CIO Vivek Kundra, is best categorized as early beta mode, as it offers very few data sets for perusing.

But in the same style Kundra utilized in his previous job as CIO of Washington, D.C., Data.gov asks visitors to suggest data sets they'd like to see at the site. "With your help, Data.gov will continue to grow and change in the weeks, months, and years ahead," the site advises on its home page.

Data.gov, at least initially, isn't ideal for the casual home user. For example, the site's featured data set on May 21 was the Residential Energy Consumption Survey, which collected information on energy use by 4,382 households, provided by the Energy Information Administration. The site warns that the full data set "is very large in size and may require specialized software to open on your computer. The file might not open completely in Excel 2003 or earlier versions."

Data.gov says visitors will be able to access raw data at the site or choose from a stable of online tools for data consumption that it hopes to grow. The site recommends using RSS or Atom feeds, or XML, only if users have software that can handle those types of feeds. For the more casual user, downloads can be done using the CSL/Text or XLS formats.

If the site does grow substantially, it could offer hordes of free data to both businesses and nonprofit organizations. Think of a commercial company using research data for product development or marketing, or a university accessing data for a research project.

And by taking the slow, project-oriented, build-by-collaboration approach to the site, Kundra's office has a better chance to manage expectations -- and deflect criticism -- about the usefulness of the site.

By inviting suggestions, Data.gov puts the power of how the site grows into the hands of the people, and will give the government a better sense of the real demand for such information, and where that demand is coming from.


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