[LINK] Google Unveils New Tool To Dig for Public Data
brd at iimetro.com.au
Thu Apr 30 11:54:52 AEST 2009
Google Unveils New Tool To Dig for Public Data
By Kim Hart
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Google launched a new search tool yesterday designed to help Web users
find public data that is often buried in hard-to-navigate government Web
The tool, called Google Public Data, is the latest in the company's
efforts to make information from federal, state and local governments
accessible to citizens. It's a goal that many Washington public interest
groups and government watchdogs share with President Obama, whose
technology advisers are pushing to open up federal data to the public.
The company plans to initially make available U.S. population and
unemployment data from the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor
Statistics, respectively. Other data sets, such as emissions statistics
from the Environmental Protection Agency, will roll out in the coming
Google is one of a number of Internet properties, including Wikipedia
and Amazon, that has been trying to make it easier to find government
information on the Web.
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has urged agencies to write their own
"wikis," or self-edited entries, that can make government information
and processes more accessible to the public. Amazon created an open data
repository so developers and researchers can share data and collaborate
on sifting through it. Google's Washington employees have spent the past
two years visiting government agencies to urge them to make their Web
sites, records and databases more searchable.
The E-Government Act of 2002 required government agencies to make
information more accessible electronically, but users have complained
that many agencies do not organize their Web sites so they can be easily
indexed by search engines. And some agencies, Google has said, embed
codes in their sites that make certain pages invisible to search engines.
"Information from government sources has been one of the thornier
areas," said David Girouard, president of Google Enterprise, which
includes the federal team. The new tool "is taking data, reformatting it
so it's immediately consumable . . . so people don't have to go through
rows and rows of data."
With Google's new tool, a Web user can search for a specific piece of
data -- unemployment rates in Maryland, for example -- and a box appears
at the top of the search results displaying the available relevant
Clay Johnson, director of Sunlight Labs, a project within the Sunlight
Foundation that uses technology to improve government transparency, said
he's encouraged by Google's new tool, although he has not yet used it.
He cautioned, however, that there is no guarantee that government data
is free of typographical and other errors.
He added that specific pieces of data could be misleading without a full
understanding of how it fits with other information that may not be
visible. For example, a Google searcher may not know enough about
campaign contribution laws to spot inaccurate data entries or statistics.
Data tools should allow user feedback, Johnson said, to alert agencies
to flawed data. Sunlight Labs is urging Federal Chief Information
Officer Vivek Kundra to implement a feedback loop on Data.gov, a site he
has proposed that would catalog public data.
"There's a lot to be wary about," Johnson said. "We don't live in a
world free of typos."
brd at iimetro.com.au
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