Last week, New York City, like Vancouver and San Francisco earlier this year, unveiled its plan to use open data to make the city government more transparent and spur civic involvement. They used the classic (now cliche?) Web 2.0 tactic to encourage engagement: a contest. The curely named NYC BigApps Contest is intended to "stimulate innovation in the information technology and media industries, and attract and support developer talent to develop web and mobile applications (apps) by using City data. These apps will benefit the City and its citizens and demonstrate the increasing accessibility and transparency of City government." The public data is available for mashing and munging in the NYC Data Mine.
Amidst the big launch though, there was a wee problem that arose when some curious citizens discovered that a report on women's social services organization found in the Data Mine accidentally still contained secret question/answer fields for the groups. Ooops! Here's the Google Group where the security breach was first reported. While I'm sure the project managers will be paying closer attention to data security from here on out, the NYC Data Mine may not be all it's cracked up to be anyway. My Institute for the Future colleague Anthony Townsend, a co-founder of free WiFi activists NYC Wireless, has been researching Gov 2.0 for quite some time and posted a short bubble-bursting post about why the the NYC Data Mine is more like municipal vaporware. From IFTF's Future Now blog:
…The NYC Data Mine that is supposed to be the raw materials for these apps, is more of an NYC Data Dump than anything else. Browsing through the 100+ datasets posted this afternoon to the city's site, you see that about half are just boundary shapefiles easily downloaded or licensed through existing channels. The other half are a dog's breakfast of static datasets (New! Updated monthly!) in every format from Excel to Access to (gag!) SAS. Hello, people, its 2009. API+XML FTW! Just to take one example, I can't wait to see what fascinating mashups stem from the historic release of the Department of Consumer Affairs' list of licensed electronic shops. Because what the world is really lacking is more information about the location of electronics retailers. What this Data Dump looks like is the collected attachments received in reponse to the poor bureaucrat who had to twist every department's arms for one dataset, so the city could say every department contributed.