Brady Forrest at O’Reilly Radar recently blogged about the plethora of options for mapping the stimulus package’s investments. A few states and government agencies have created their own mapping portals, and a few software makers have pulled some of the stimulus data into their own tools. Considering the inaccessibility of public data before the Obama administration, these are all a huge step.
But each site has its own silo of data, and no site is complete. What we need is a unified point of access to all sources of information: firsthand reports from Recovery.gov and state portals, commentary from StimulusWatch and MetaCarta, and more. The trend toward information liquidity has prompted web tools for fields as different as human services and social networking to allow data to flow freely between different silos. The federal government can use this same paradigm to turn Recovery.gov into a radical tool for transparency.
With already-existing technology, the federal government could easily revolutionize Recovery.gov in just a few steps:
- Require all data from state and agency Recovery portals to flow directly to Recovery.gov, which will act as a unified point of access to each of these smaller portals. This will expand the Recovery.gov map to include every project, nationwide, without requiring White House staff to gather additional information. Crowdsourcing is effective because the general public can easily gather more information than just a few administrators can. This technique will be effective because 50 states and dozens of federal agencies can easily gather more information than just the White House staff can. We know this works because we’ve done it here in Allegheny County.
- Make the data specific. Each project should be able to be represented by an icon on its actual location, not just the center of its municipality (or worse, state). Let us know exactly where the money is being spent. We’re interested in the big picture, but we’re also interested in our neighborhoods.
- Give us tools to make our own maps. We should be able to customize the style of visualization, and which records the map displays, in order to create maps that are truly meaningful to us and our communities.
- Give us the data for use in our own tools. We should be able to download the data not just as feeds and KML files, but also as CSV files for use in the systems of our choice.
- Let us share. We should be able to download and share the maps we create at Recovery.gov online via social networking, blogs and e-mail, and also in print. If the White House can Tweet at us, we should be able to Tweet back — and to back up our discourse with data.
A comprehensive map of all the stimulus projects, everywhere, from first-hand sources (i.e. the government agencies funding them) would yield a truly transparent and informative look at American Recovery and Reinvestment Act investments, and allow the public to easily evaluate the effectiveness of the projects it’s paying for. The fact that all of these different micro-portals exist clearly illustrates that the technology to create a comprehensive map exists. Like with most projects, the issue isn’t that the technology doesn’t exist — it’s making the vision a reality.
Concerned citizens and medical professionals alike need detailed, timely information about the spread of H1N1 swine flu to safeguard their communities and families. The CDC and WHO should be releasing more detailed and timely information about the spread of swine flu than is currently available to the public. Moreover, both organizations are releasing information with decreasing frequency, despite the increasing spread of the virus.
Join the call for better flu information by signing the FluTracker petition online! Click here to sign.
Read on for the full petition:
David Chartier at Ars Technica notes that social networking services must break down the silos that separate them or decline into irrelevance like AOL. As quality, free content grew on the Internet outside of AOL, people abandoned the premium service — two-thirds of them. Chartier notes that social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are next. People are pouring too much value — photos, notes, Tweets, posts — into these sites to tolerate having to recreate their content on each individual service. As soon as a unified point-of-entry to social networking is unleashed — the free, public Internet to AOL’s “walled garden” — today’s industry giants may become tomorrow’s lumbering dinosaurs.
If we won’t tolerate silos for general Web content, and we won’t tolerate silos for social networking, why do we tolerate silos for public data?
Just to map crime and population in my neighborhood, I have to download shapefiles for Census tracts from one U.S. government service, population statistics from another, and then hope that I can track down crime statistics from some obscure bureau of my municipal government. (Adding insult to injury, that municipality might even try to make me pay for them, even though I already have with my tax dollars.) After this maddening scavenger hunt comes the fun part — I get to fight with my mapping platform to somehow make all this data from different sources look somewhat coherent.
It doesn’t have to be like this. At Rhiza Labs, we’re already deploying tools that provide a seamless, unified point-of-access to many different databases. Thanks to the Information Commons, Pittsburghers can use HumanServices.net to search both the county Department of Human Services and the local United Way’s human service directories while also getting bus directions — without even knowing they’re looking at multiple databases.
Don’t like our tools? Build your own. We provide full REST API access to our platforms, so you can build your own interface or even compile a mash-up. United Way of Pittsburgh has its own spin on HumanServices.net that still accesses the same data. And if you don’t like our database: Pull the information and take it elsewhere. FluTracker syndicates every update to RSS, Google Earth, and CSV, and major corporations and government agencies are using these feeds to complement their corporate security planning.
Right now, services that can’t integrate silos of data take their toll on us — by forcing us to make decisions with less information. Soon, services that can’t integrate silos of data will feel a toll themselves — a decline into irrelevance as a new paradigm, based on information liquidity, takes hold. Call it glastnost for the information age.
The sci-fi thriller “Minority Report” envisioned a world in which virtually any surface could convey information. Mickey McManus, president and CEO of MAYA Design, says “the trillion-node network” that would make such a world possible will be upon us within five years. […]
The problem, Mr. McManus says, is that we aren’t equipped for the complexity generated by all of the “smart stuff” that we are creating: VCRs that never stopped blinking “12:00″ were just a harbinger of an even larger gulf developing between what our technology can do and how well we can use it. […]
“Humans haven’t designed anything for a trillion before,” he said. No version of Windows, no distribution of Linux, can scale to that level. The only thing we have that can is peer-to-peer networking.
—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 5/13/2009
Rhiza was born from MAYA’s vision of eliminating disparate silos of data to unite the facts and figures of the world into a resource available to everyone. We call this technology the Information Commons, and it’s how all three of our platforms revolutionize the way governments, nonprofits, and businesses manage their data.
Join Rhiza CEO Josh Knauer at TUgis 2009, Maryland’s premiere GIS conference, to learn more about creating incentives and pathways for sharing public GIS data. Josh’s presentation will focus on the lessons learned from Rhiza’s collaboration with the public and nonprofit sectors to implement public geospatial data sharing through Insight, Rhiza’s collaborative web-based GIS platform.
Josh will present during the first breakout session at 10:45 AM on March 16. The theme for TUgis 2009 is “Web GIS: New Tools for Data Sharing and Collaboration,” so Rhiza will be in good company. TUgis will be held on the campus of Towson University in Towson, Maryland (near Baltimore and Washington, DC) on March 16 and 17.
Communicating the impact of your organization to clients, constituents and funders„ Posting information on the Internet is only the first step. Telling a compelling story requires thoughtful analysis that makes the hidden connections within your information apparent and highlights your successes. Conventional technology cannot do this for your stakeholders; Rhiza Labs can.
The yet-to-be mined treasure trove of unmade connections between data is called the Deep Web. Making the hidden connections between your data apparent — accessing the Deep Web — is essential. It promotes transparency and participation in decision making and goes a long way toward securing and maintaining the support of funders and other stakeholders. Making these connections can also be labor-intensive. With money tight and demands high, organizations have even more reason to turn to technology to simplify the analysis of information. By doing so, they make critical analysis easier to accomplish with fewer person-hours.
Yet technology is not always up to the task. As the New York Times notes: “With millions of databases connected to the Web, and endless possible permutations of search terms, there is simply no way for any search engine — no matter how powerful — to sift through every possible combination of data on the fly.” (more…)
On February 28, 2009, Rhiza Labs CTO Michael Higgins and CEO Josh Knauer presented at Transparency Camp ’09 on creating public information systems that support truly public decision-making. Josh focused on community-level transparency efforts; Mike focused on incorporating transparency into the design process. View Mike’s presentation, and notes from Josh’s, below: (more…)
Josh Knauer, CEO of Rhiza Labs, will deliver the keynote address to attending GIS professionals, scholars, nonprofit and government staff at the 2009 Pennsylvania GIS Conference on May 19. His presentation will use the Information Commons to explain how social entrepreneurship in the geospatial community can stimulate new and useful thinking about data sharing.
The conference, an outreach service of the Center for Geospatial Information Services and the Institute for State and Regional Affairs at Penn State Harrisburg, runs May 19 and 20 at the Holiday Inn Hotel and Conference Center in Grantville, PA.
Visit the Pennsylvania GIS Conference page to register and reserve a room at the conference rate.
After January’s airplane miracle on the Hudson, divers charged with retrieving the craft demonstrated a good reason for public agencies to maintain comprehensive, current public data — even if their immediate utility is not apparent:
The divers who located the engine at the bottom of the Hudson River could see only a few inches in front of their masks, but they were not, in a manner of speaking, on unfamiliar ground.
The floor of the Hudson, from the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to Troy, N.Y., has been mapped in recent years by scientists who used sonar to scan every square foot of river deeper than six feet.
Mapping commonly shared assets of the natural and built environment positions communities to respond to the unexpected. Government agencies should maintain detailed geospatial data, even when their justification seems rather far fetched — you never know when a jet airliner will land in the Hudson River between Midtown and Jersey. (more…)
A letter to the New York Times details another reason why accountability is critical for good government: the retention of talented career public servants.
“…the biggest reason to pursue accountability: the morale of current and future career employees of the very agencies so poorly served by most government officials for most of the last eight years… For all the fickle revolving-door political appointments that… departments have had to endure… nothing so demeans worthy men and women as the abrogation of trust.
People of character will not choose to subject themselves to personal and professional debasement when they have no faith in the integrity of the offices we ask them to serve.”