Let&#x2019;s discuss government information mashups! But first, as a refresher, what is a mashup? It is a web page or application that combines data or functionality from 2 or more sources to create a new service. They often use open APIs and data sources (the data comes in standard formats such as Atom, RSS, XML, Text/CSV, etc.) to produce results that were not the original reason for producing the raw source of data. We&#x2019;ll look at some examples in the context of government information and data.
With the new Presidential Administration, we are witnessing a historical transformation of civic engagement due to technological innovations that are changing both politics and the documentation that results. On his second day in office, President Obama issued a "Transparency and Open Government" memorandum, in which he laid out his vision of what government should be:
Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing. Open the box!
Government should be participatory
Public engagement enhances the Government's effectiveness and improves the quality of its decisions.
Government should be collaborative
Collaboration actively engages Americans in the work of their Government.
Access to government information is also extremely important, as well as accessibility to our congressmen. They are on Twitter, Facebook, Blogs, etc.
...thanks to our new techie & transparent administration, government information has never looked better.
This vision of government embraces Web 2.0 practices that encourage transparency, open standards, several approaches to problem solving, fostering new ideas and innovations, and encourages everyone to participate, share, and collaborate. Obama's promise to have a more transparent and open government by using web technology and embracing web 2.0 tools is evident if you look at Whitehouse.gov (http:www.whitehouse.gov)...
or the new government info portal, fdsys.gov (http://www.fdsys.gov) which offers RSS feeds, APIs and XML formats (&#x201C;mods&#x201D; or &#x201C;packages&#x201D;) of government documents...
and in a recent government initiative called Data.gov, (http://www.data.gov), where government data is free for the taking and re-mixing by anyone. The transparency and accessibility of this data allows us to hold government accountable.
Several non-profit organizations, such as The Sunlight Foundation (http://www.sunlightfoundation.com/) and its Sunlight Labs (http://www.sunlightlabs.com/), have taken advantage of social media tools and the increasing accessibility of this government data online by creating mashups to engage, educate, and empower citizens.
These are projects and partners affiliated with the Sunlight Foundation which we will also take a look at.
These groups, including the Sunlight Foundation, aim to make gov data useful! It&#x2019;s more than just putting data from Excel onto Google maps. They work to make correlations and make the data useful. For example...
Sunlight Labs hold contests, including the recent Apps for America 2 the data.gov challenge that was also sponsored by our government! (http://www.appsfordemocracy.org/apps-for-democracy-medal-winners) One of the two gold medal winners were...
iLive.at (http://www.ilive.at) combines Google Maps and demographic, neighborhood, and crime data. Right now it is in beta mode and covers only D.C. There is a similar mashup out there for Chicago crime (http://chicago.everyblock.com/crime/).
MapLight.org (http://maplight.org) is part of the Sunlight Foundation Posse and their Mashup is an example of taking available gov data to show the relations b/w legislators, interest groups/lobbyists/$ and the resulting support of legislation.
OpenCongress.org (http://www.opencongress.org/) takes data and documents from thomas.loc.gov, fdsys.gov, gpo.gov, etc. and makes it more dynamic, social, and fun. There is a fun facebook Widget available among the many other widgets they offer.
A similar website is Govtrack.us (http://www.govtrack.us) which was started by a graduate student in his spare time!
OpenSecrets.org (http://www.opensecrets.org) is a watchdog group that creates mashups from government data to expose correlations b/w lobbying and legislation and campaign finance.
Speaking of money...a plethora of mashups have been created dealing with the stimulus plan and bailouts during this time of economic hardship. Citizens want to know where their money is going and be able to visualize and comprehend it in an easy way.
Because of ARRA, the Obama administration has set up Recovery.gov (http://www.recovery.gov) for citizens to monitor the progress of the economic recovery and to know how, where, and when our tax dollars are being spent. The site gives a breakdown of the stimulus $ by category viewable in tabular or graphical form, and an interactive map showing how much $ has been allocated to each program or agency. This website has been criticized as not being updated often enough, or not transparent enough, etc. so...
an alternative site, Recovery.org (http://www.recovery.org) run by a business-to-government company called Onvia, says that it does better than recovery.gov (although it does link to it!) in tracking every dollar of federal, state and local Recovery Act spending in real time and lets you focus on certain areas to see notices for the areas that most directly affect you and your community.
A really cool mashup dealing with bailout $ is the Map of Bailout Recipients (http://bailout.propublica.org/main/map/index) which has a Google map with markers representing the HQs of a financial institution that expects to or has received money from the Treasury Department&#x2019;s TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program). The size of each marker represents the amount of bailout money given to each institution. No surprise to see that the NY and Chicago area is the tallest! You can also click on a state and view a listing of the financial institutions that participate in TARP and how much money they have received so far. The data is available for downloading in XML or CVS.
Moving onto a broader mashup area, the HackingCongress.org (http://www.hackingcongress.org) website features several projects and affiliations, including Filibusted.us, the winner of Sunlight&#x2019;s first Apps for America contest...
Filibusted (http://filibusted.us/) which draws data from GovTrack.us to show which Members of Congress are obstructing progress (aka Filibusting).
Or why not stalk your legislators at Legistalker (http://legistalker.org/)? Get a daily feed stream of all mentions in Twitter, YouTube, the news, etc.
Or use the handy Know Thy Congressman (http://know-thy-congressman.com/) bookmarklet, another App for America, to display info about current congressmen...
highlighting the name of the congressperson and clicking on the bookmarklet to bring up the info display. (i.e. a page on Whitehouse.gov mentions Nancy Pelosi and if I want to learn more about her, just use the bookmarklet!)
The EPA&#x2019;s Toxic Release Inventory (http://www.epa.gov/tri/) is a great example of government data made available for others to make mashups. Someone from dotgovwatch.gov coded a mashup (http://www.dotgovwatch.com/wsdl/map.php) using EPA's data, google maps, etc. that makes it easy to find toxic air emissions in your area and who is responsible for it.
EPA Data and Mashups Reveal Toxic Emissions Near You.&#x201D; http://www.dotgovwatch.com/?/archives/38-EPA-Data-and-Mashups-Reveal-Toxic-Emissions-Near-You.html
Other example of an environmental watch mashup is : RTKNet: Right to Know Network&#x2019;s, TRI Database (http://www.rtknet.org/db/tri/).
This was an imaginary example of a mashup to illustrate how data can be made into a useful and efficient tool. The authors of this article stated that &#x201C;Presently the City of Vancouver only shares its garbage schedule, divided only north and south, as a PDF file. This is a pity as it means that no one can build any apps around it. Imagine a website or iPhone app that mashed up google maps with a constantly up to date city garbage pick up schedule. With such an application one could: Simply punch in your address and find out your garbage zone (no more guessing if you live on the border of a zone); Get an email or SMS notification 15 minutes, 1 hour, 12 hours before pick up; Download the garbage schedule into your calendar using XML, HTML etc.
Maybe this seems all very simply, nice but unimportant. But this is more than just creating convenience. What are the implications? Add up time saved by citizens better able to plan around garbage pick up, a small reduction in illegal garbage disposal, a small increase in recycling, slight increase in garbage pick up efficiency, and the city could save money. That is not insignificant - especially if all the city had to do was free the data and allow an intrepid hacker to code up the website. With open data, the possibilities, savings and convenience are endless.&#x201D;
&#x201C;How Open Data Even Makes Garbage Collection Sexier, Easier and Cheaper.&#x201D; http://eaves.ca/2009/06/29/how-open-data-even-makes-garbage-collection-sexier-easier-and-cheaper/
Gov Info Mashups
Gov Info Mashups
Government Documents Librarian
McNeese State University