Data that Would Make the Difference

Local governments may be posting enough data for developers to create novel applications, but not enough for them to make apps that a profitable number of citizens would pay to use, contends Daniel Odio, CEO and co-founder of mobile Web consulting firm PointAbout Inc.

Odio envisions dazzling possibilities for private-sector mash-ups of government open data, but doesn’t think enough open data is offered to create those mash-ups. Odio would like to see a world in which technology automatically delivers data a person might want before he or she asks for it. This already happens with applications like Internet radio site Pandora, which automatically sends an alert when a friend on Facebook likes the song we’re listening to.

Increased open government data will help spread that experience to other aspects of life, Odio predicts. He believes this will be realistic when mobile phones can connect to a car’s application programming interface (API). For example, with an API-to-mobile phone connection, as a person drives on a highway, his mobile phone app could detect that the vehicle’s gas tank is one-quarter full, which is the point at which this driver likes to refill it. Immediately the app determines the exit likeliest to please the driver.

“It knows you don’t want to buy gas from BP because of the oil spill, and so your phone tells you, ‘Hey, stop at the Exxon gas station that’s on the way to your destination,’” Odio said. “Literally the mobile device is letting you live your life in a better way. You can make better decisions because of this mash-up of data.”

Sivak agrees that developers need more data for better mash-ups, but he suggests that developers lobby governments for the specific data sets they want. He said developers need to give open data advocates within government good talking points to make cases for those requests.

“Part of the problem right now is we’re just saying, ‘Release data for data’s sake because we want to be transparent. Release data because somebody out there might do something with it.’ I don’t think that’s enough to really convince the bureaucrats that it’s worth spending limited resources on,” Sivak remarked.

He said a viable solution would be for governments to establish a formal process for submitting requests. Sivak cautioned, however, that developers would need to also foster relationships with like-minded individuals within the government who could advocate for releasing the data.

Andy Opsahl  | 

Andy Opsahl is a former writer and features editor for Government Technology magazine.