Sometimes the geekiest stuff is the most important. When it comes to creating a more transparent and accountable government, Thursday, May 21, is one of those sometimes.
On this beautiful morning, our nation's citizenry received one of the greatest gifts it could receive from its government: raw, freely and easily accessible data.
New federal CIO Vivek Kundra and the Obama Administration have officially launched Data.gov, which is the first-ever catalog of federal data being made freely (and easily) available to citizens.
Now, it's unlikely the description of Data.gov will send chills down the spine of anyone who doesn't speak Ruby or Python or MYSQL, and if you visit the site, it's unlikely you'll be struck or know to be impressed by what's there. But if you step back and take a minute to understand what you're looking at, you'll realize we've just taken an unprecedented first step into the Era of Big Open Government.
When information and process become free and participatory, markets get created (think about weather data), more people engage more deeply with their government (see: Obama's online townhall), and ultimately, people care more about what their government does and how it serves them. ...it's nearly impossible for people to know more about what's going on and care less.
Transparency is at the heart of destroying apathy.
The key with this new data, though, is that we do something with it. While opening up data is a beautiful thing in its own right, what will make this release truly great is when citizens actually take the information and create new, brilliant applications.
That's why Sunlight Labs in partnership with Google, O'Reilly Media, and Craig Newmark of Craigslist has simultaneously launched a contest with $25,000 in awards to incentivize the creation of said brilliance.
This is a wonderful, one-time opportunity to show the administration the good that follows when they make information free. So we need to seize it. And everyone's help in getting the word out is key -- whether you're a developer, someone who knows developers to share this with, or someone who simply writes and talks to others.
At the end of the day, the more great entries the Apps for America contest receives, the more likely government is to release more data -- and the more data government releases the more transparent, accountable, and efficient it can be.
Open, free, raw information -- true Transparency -- makes government work the way it's supposed to (for you).
So let's get on this. Geeks, wonks and active citizens alike.