Beth Noveck, director of the White House open-government initiative, says criticism of the Big Apple’s initial effort is premature. “We need to remind people that Data.gov [the White House data-release site] started with 47 datasets, quickly jumped to 100,000 and is taking off from there,” she says. “So it’s wonderful that New York started this and followed the president’s lead in making government more open.” She expects the city’s effort to grow substantially.
City officials say the release represents everything they could pull together from 30 agencies in the four months since Mayor Michael Bloomberg promised the release in June. The city will continually add to the datasets, says Kristy Sundjaja, a vice president at the city’s Economic Development Corporation. She adds that through its NYC BigApps competition, the city is encouraging contestants to combine city data with data from other sources. Examples might, in theory, include mashups of taxi-license data with crowd-sourced citizen complaints about taxi conditions.
“We are definitely open to any application ideas that will make it easier for citizens and visitors to New York to live and work and have fun,” Sundjaja says. “That is the theme of this year’s competition.” Details of the contest, which will offer $20,000 in prizes, are viewable here.
New York City has already created an iPhone app interface for its popular 311 service system, which citizens can use to learn about city services and report nonemergency problems like potholes and broken streetlights.
“The remarkable thing overall is that we are going from the default of keeping information private to the default of making it public.” says David Weinberger, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, who and was an Internet advisor to Howard Dean during his 2004 presidential campaign. “Rather than having to put in a Freedom of Information Act request for everything you want, the approach has become, ‘We are going to put out more than you can ever use.’”