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Google Nudges Cities for More Data

Google’s Margo Georgiadis calls upon city leaders to release more data.

Since its inception, Google has worked to perfect and personalize its search engine results, and last Friday, the company may have revealed its next big push for improvement: open government data.

Margo Georgiadis, Google’s president for the Americas, called upon municipal leaders to open access to greater volumes of city data to support custom user results in Google’s search engine. Georgiadis voiced her comments in Chicago at an annual luncheon of the Metropolitan Planning Council, where she extoled the virtues of search innovation and open government as two faces of the same coin.

“Think about all the information that the government has. It has a huge wealth of information that would be incredibly useful to what we’re all doing every day,” said Georgiadis, in a quote by Forbes, which covered the event.

Google would couple the expanded city data with information that it aggregates from users like calendars, Web searches, location and other profile data to deliver targeted results and suggestions. Georgiadis described Google’s ultimate objective for search to become an intuitive personal assistant for each individual — she envisions the search bar to eventually become a thing of the past.

To accomplish this, she suggested the “default” of city data and its related processes would need to be an open access environment, a decision that would allow residents — and Google — a window to the data for greater use.

She did not speak on how detailed personal information would need to be or other privacy issues related to the open data. Nor did Georgiadis highlight what greater access to government data could mean specifically for custom search and search suggestions.

In years past, Google has tried to fend off those who’ve attempted to manipulate search engine results with black hat techniques, such as false links and highly crafted keyword use. If search results were tied closer to individual behavior and data this may be a technique to reduce such manipulated search results.

Currently, there is a trend among cities toward open data such as New York, which recently refreshed its website with city department interaction tools, emergency notifications and public news casts. Other cities like Kansas City, Mo., have added real-time performance statistics to their websites through private firms such as Socrata, a Seattle-based company that specializes in online data publishing.

Georgiadis said transportation data is already shared by local governments, however, data could extend to neighborhoods, jobs, school districts and anything else.

Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.