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Amazon Public Data: Another Nail in Data.gov’s Coffin?

by Andrea Di Maio  |  May 5, 2009  |  5 Comments

Like Google, also Amazon is creating vast repositories of public data pulled from data sources managed by government. The last example is the addition of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing (TIGER) shapefiles, covering American states, counties, districts, places, and areas. Amazon has already posted other data in past, such as the list of all federal contracts taken from USAspending.gov.

As more of these examples emerge, it becomes clear that governments need to act fast to make their public data easily available, to make sure that people and businesses do not become too dependent on what vendors like Google or Amazon will be doing. On the other hand, the genie may already be out of the bottle, and while agencies agree on formats and priorities, the wealth of public data scraped from web sites and extracted from public data bases by Google, Amazon and others will keep increasing.

Remember the search box on government portals? How many people use it as opposed to googling what they are looking for? History may repeat itself here

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Category: open-government-data  

Tags: amazon  datagov  google  transparency  

Andrea Di Maio
Managing VP
19 years at Gartner
33 years IT industry

Andrea Di Maio is a managing vice president for public sector in Gartner Research, covering government and education. His personal research focus is on digital government strategies, open government, the business value of IT, smart cities, and the impact of technology on the future of government Read Full Bio


Thoughts on Amazon Public Data: Another Nail in Data.gov’s Coffin?


  1. Greg Lambert says:

    This is a good observation on how we’ve become dependent upon 3rd Party providers for government information. I had a brief argument with a well respected lawyer about how Westlaw built a multi-billion dollar company using information they received from state and federal governments for free. I disagreed with him on this concept and argued that, although the ‘data’ was free, they better organized it, and added value to the raw information. In fact, in most situations, these third party resources are now the “official” resource for the government.

    Governments are good at collecting and creating data, but they are horrible at organizing and distributing the data in an efficient manner. Different governmental agencies present their information on different platforms, most of which don’t integrate any other agency’s information, or even link to outside information. Quite frankly, that is just the way things have been and will continue to be whenever there is a .gov website.

    Vendors like Westlaw have taken their role of government information provider very seriously, and have built a great business model at the same time. Amazon or Google have not risen to this prestigious role as quasi-official government reporter yet, but given enough time (and some eventual legislation) I see them moving closer to this role. So, although I wish governments would do a better job of making information more readily available, I’m not too uncomfortable with 3rd party providers taking the reigns on doing this for the government.

  2. […] the announcements from Google and Amazon, both of which I have covered in previous posts, it is now Microsoft’s turn to play in the space […]

  3. […] at how industry can be mobilized to extract public information (see my recent posts on Microsoft, Amazon and Google) and take a more cautious attitude than his US […]

  4. […] it is not for granted that transparency and centralization of data access go hand in hand. Forcing agencies to publish “transparent” information on a single site (data.gov) may hamper agency-specific initiatives and won’t anyhow cover state & local. Further a single repository or key to public information may always be perceived as an opportunity for government to exercise control about who access that data and for what purpose. What would be more needed are lightweight standards for agencies at all levels to conform to in order to provide information on their web sites (or other channels of choice). Central initiatives like data.gov should be one but not the only channel (see previous post). […]

  5. […] it is not for granted that transparency and centralization of data access go hand in hand. Forcing agencies to publish “transparent” information on a single site (data.gov) may hamper agency-specific initiatives and won’t anyhow cover state & local. Further a single repository or key to public information may always be perceived as an opportunity for government to exercise control about who access that data and for what purpose. What would be more needed are lightweight standards for agencies at all levels to conform to in order to provide information on their web sites (or other channels of choice). Central initiatives like data.gov should be one but not the only channel (see previous post). […]



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