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Building a Better Gov Data Catalog, From the Outside In

BY Nancy Scola | Thursday, July 16 2009

One imagines the conversation in Sunlight Labs HQ went something like this: "We can rebuild it -- we have the technology." And for far less than six million dollars! Saying that they were inspired by but believe that their role as outsiders puts them in a position to make it even better, the folks in the watchdog group's experimental wing have announced plans to improve upon it by building a National Data Catalog:

Because of politics and scale there's only so much the government is going to be able to do. There are legal hurdles and boundaries the government can't cross that we can. For instance: there's no legislative or judicial branch data inside and while links off to state data catalogs, entries aren't in the same place or format as the rest of the catalog. Community documentation and collaboration are virtual impossibilities because of the regulations that impact the way Government interacts with people on the web.

Government officials have discussed growing to somewhere near 100,000 data feeds, but something is slowing that progress; the site currently hosts just under 400 original data sets. There's a discussion group starting up where you can learn about and participate in Sunlight's effort to do government one better.

Note: Our Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifry are senior advisors to the Sunlight Foundation.