I was cruising TechDirt and saw a neat post on “Is The Federal Government The Most Interesting Tech Startup For 2009?“ The idea is that the recent data.gov initiative has led to an outpouring of with-it and effective apps allowing anyone to get a handle on the vast trove of information compiled by the federal government. If you haven’t checked out data.gov, give it a whirl — it’s pretty astounding. After a week of hearing about ludicrous claims of “death panels” and “keeping government’s hands off my (government-run) Medicare”, it was nice to be reminded that good people working hard can produce tremendous work — that government can serve a positive purpose and isn’t intrinsically evil, corrupt, or incompetence.
Some of the nifty apps I saw (via the techdirt link) were
- This We Know: Info on communities and towns, all in one place.
- House Scorecard: Track the House process.
- data.gov time machine: Visualization tool to see trends in a time series.
- Fly On Time: A tool to find the most on-time route between two cities.
This isn’t quite the level of Star Trek (“Computer, rearrange known data into a new theory of physics”) but it’s a step in the right direction. And if the survival of democracy requires the active participation of an educated and engaged citizenry, then cataloging what is actually known can help secure the health of our republic. For all the noise and thunder of the 24-hour news cycle, this is where the action really is.