As indicated in a previous post, ideas about how to develop recovery.gov (the web site reporting about how the ARRA money is being used) are being submitted between April 27th and May 3rd.
Browsing through the list of submission (little short than 100 so far), there are two that stem out of the lot for the number of comments they received and the discussion they generated.
The first onewas posted by Tim Berners-Lee and suggests to publish all data as Linked Open Data. The idea in itself is not new and was somewhat implicit in what the US administration is trying to accomplish. But the ensuing discussion is quite interesting. Not surprisingly, it has led to the usual confrontation between those who support a Semantic Web access (using RDF/OWL) and those who promote the use of a simpler approach based on XML/REST (see the UC Berkeley Proposed Guideline Clarifications for the ARRA of 2009 for a comparison). Most comments though point toward encouraging different agencies to adopt a “good enough” approach and publish data according to very basic and simple specifications, assuming that data will be scraped and transformed anyhow by others on the web.
The second interesting post suggests to track projects through Google Earth and web cams. As the post says:
People could ‘fly’ to the project location and see a graphic simulation of the project; read about the project (goals, costs, jobs created, timelines, org charts, project plans) and track progress visually through Earthcam or project specific web camera; meet the project manager and get updates; watch people working; find out if jobs are available; get links to job training programs etc. Scientific research projects could ‘fly’ people into a lab where the scientist would present his/her thesis, discuss the research and status of the research, and ultimately present the results. Clean energy projects could tour entrepreneurial companies engaged in solar, wind, clean coal, algae, electric cars – generating enthusiasm for what’s coming, and possibly even investment interest
The post also suggests what to do in more detail for different categories of projects and implies that citizens would be directly involved in making it work. Maybe it contains a little bit of wishful thinking, but goes right in the direction of greater and unprecedented transparency that US administration claims to be looking for.
These ideas combined show that (1) taking a bottom up approach (i.e. allowing agencies to report and publish data with very light specifications) could crack the problem of meaningfully joining-up government information, and (2) there are plenty of ways to make these data alive in ways that governments themselves cannot figure out.
Since all this requires to relinquish central control, here’s the real question: is the US government (and actuallyany government) really ready to take this path?