Public Data Central


The federal government's brand-spanking-new Chief Information Officer, Vivek Kundra, was interviewed yesterday by Government Computer News about some of his planned initiatives for the federal government.

What's most notable about these remarks is that high on Kundra's agenda is an ambitious plan to centralize federal databases and data feeds at a new site to be called data.gov. Most significantly, Kundra sees this rich pool of data fueling all sorts of new products and creating new business opportunities.

The article notes that in his former position as CIO of the District of Columbia, he launched an initiative called "Apps for Democracy" that encouraged businesses, non-profits and individuals to build applications based on District of Columbia data so the government wouldn't have to do the work in-house. Now that's progressive thinking!

What are the implications for data publishers, particularly those already making heavy use of government data? This initiative could be a two-edged sword. On one hand, it creates real pressure to make more government data conveniently accessible. On the other hand, it's likely to create more competition from online start-ups start seeking to capitalize on the value of these new databases.

The secret for success is not simply to re-format or even aggregate these government databases, but add value to them. Government data are almost by definition messy data, so there is value in scrubbing and normalizing it. Government data are almost always not current, so value can be added by bringing them up to date. Government databases are often deep, but not with information that's necessarily of any commercial value. Data augmentation can often add tremendous value.

Profiting from this promised flood of new government databases means treating them as starting points, not destinations. Adding value to data is something we all know how to do very well, so let the race begin!

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