[LINK] Google Unveils New Tool To Dig for Public Data

Bernard Robertson-Dunn 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
Washington Post
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 
public data.

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."


Bernard Robertson-Dunn
Canberra Australia
brd at iimetro.com.au

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