It’s all about data. We all use data somehow everyday. Bioinformatics analyze different data sequences in order to study DNA. Marketing departments study data from sales to determine new trends in their customers. Companies need to combine data after company mergers. People search on the web in order to find data about specific topics. Web developers create mash-ups by consuming data from different sources. Governments publish their data to maintain transparency. And the list goes on.
However, I’m interested in one particular aspect: open government data. The US government is releasing their data at data.gov. The UK government has their data available at data.gov.uk. The New Zealand government is publishing their data at open.org.nz. And it doesn’t stop there. The following cities are publishing their data: San Francisco (datasf.org), District of Columbia (data.octo.dc.gov/), New York (nyc.gov/html/datamine), Boston (http://hubmaps1.cityofboston.gov/datahub/), Toronto (toronto.ca/open/). The city of London recently held an open event asking developers how it can make best use of the available data.
My questions are simple. What’s up City of Austin? Why are we behind? Aren’t we also considered a tech city? Shouldn’t we already be part of this trend? Why aren’t we already publishing City of Austin data?
There are a number of good reasons the city should publish government data. It can help improve the accessibility, accountability and transparency of the City of Austin. The data can offer citizens a much more efficient way to find useful information. We can help our web development community to create innovative applications that will offer users the valuable information.
All of these open government data efforts have one thing in common: they offer a machine-readable data on the web. What is machine-readable data? It is data that a computer can process without any human intervention in formats such as XML, CSV, KML, RDF, etc. PDFs are not machine-readable because their objective is to show content to humans.
The OpenAustin project has given the floor for people to propose ideas for the requirements of the new City of Austin website. Some of the proposed ideas are to provide an open API to government data, have machine-readable data feeds, and even offer data as Linked Data. However, I am not aware what the situation is at this moment with any of these ideas.
Semantic Web Austin, for one, would be happy to help. We are a newly formed non-profit with several goals. We want to help apply and create leading edge semantic technologies in Austin. We want to position Austin as the leader in the semantic web technology space and be recognized as the go-to place for technology breakthroughs. We want Austin to be a bellwether for startups and business applications in the semantic space. We want to retain, attract and home-grow leading semantic web talent in the technical and business areas. We want to create a sustaining, self-managing community of semantic web technical, business and investment professionals.
Without going into any huge explanation, the Semantic Web is all about publishing linked data on the web. From the beginning, we have been publishing documents on the web. After years of research and hard work, we have created the standards and principles to start publishing data on the web. But you may ask, haven’t we already been publishing data on the web for a while in all these different machine-readable formats? Yes we have! But there is a difference. We have a standardized way of publishing documents on the web: HTML. We now have a standardized way of publishing data on the web: RDF. And if you have the data on the web in the same format which is linked to other data, the possibilities are endless. You can start imagining the whole web as a giant global database. For more information, check out Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s, inventor of the Web, TED talk on Linked Data.
The UK government understands what it means to publish all of their government data on the web as Linked Data and has already become a world showcase. Their recently launched data.gov.uk offers more than 2500 datasets as Linked Data, and apparently it puts the US’ data.gov to shame.
Austin has an opportunity to lead, rather than follow. Other cities in the US have been publishing their data, but none of them have been publishing their data following the Semantic Web standards, data in RDF and as Linked Data. Let’s become the first city in the US to offer true Semantic Web open data.
Who’s with me?