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Minnesota's Proposed "State Webmaster" is Giving Microsoft Agita

BY Nancy Scola | Thursday, March 11 2010

Out in the great state of Minnesota, the forward-thinking legislature there is attempting, by statute, to create an official position of state webmaster, so that there's one single point person who is responsible for maintaining and spreading public data on the web. The benefit of putting it into law: so that even should political power change, there's an established place in the bureaucracy for a data captain. But that, my friends, has folks with some of your bigger proprietary software companies a little anxious. Politics in Minnesota reports:

A bill for the innocuous-sounding purpose of establishing the position of state webmaster is reportedly attracting the nervous interest of high-tech lobbying interests, most notably Microsoft. The bill, which is being carried in the Legislature by Sen. Don Betzold and Rep. Phyllis Kahn, the chairs of the Senate and House State Government Finance committees, would create the position of state webmaster to oversee the development of coordinated, information-generous state government websites and to make the data presented there more readily accessible and useable for the public.

In short, what's making companies like Microsoft worried is that standardizing public data, as provided for in the bill, is but a slippery slope towards interoperability, which only ends in a pit of open-source software -- and away from locked packages of the sort that Microsoft sells.

As important as this legislative wrangling is for Minnesota's prospects of a getting an official public data master, it potentially has a much further reach. It's probably safe to predict that other states seeking to enshrine an open public data regime into state law would/will face a similar battle.