Today is a monumental day in the history of the United States, and I suspect many readers will be too caught up in the inaugural festivities to be checking their RSS readers. But everyone has a job to do, and part of mine is to speak truth to power through blogging.
A few months ago, when Obama’s victory was hardly certain, I was fortunate to attend a meeting of New York technology executives where Jed Katz, a managing director at DFJ Gotham Ventures and a technology advisor to the Obama campaign, responded to questions about Obama’s technology strategy. What he made clear was that he, and by extension the Obama campaign and administration-to-be, was there as much to listen and learn as to respond.
I followed up with Jed by sending my ideas about how the federal government can better make public domain information available to the public. Today, much of that data is locked up in the hands of vendors who then dole it out in drabs. While these arrangements may have been necessary at the time to fund the distribution of that information, they are out of step with today’s technology. What we need is for anyone to be able to obtain that information in raw form and then add value to it by creating better ways to access and analyze it. In fact, private sector companies, universities, and NGOs could compete in their offerings.
I’m hardly the first person to suggest this. Vivek Kundra, the CTO of the District of Columbia and a short-listed candidate for CTO of the United States, organized Apps for Democracy, a contest much along the lines of what I’m describing.
I work in the private sector, and I’m not swayed by the naive conception that all information needs to be free. Some of us would like to earn a living! But public domain information produced by government needs to be freely available to an informed and active citizenry. Moreover, information freely contributed by that citizenry should to be available to decision makers, as well as to the at large.
Today is a milestone many of us never expected we’d live to see, a president who “doesn’t look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills.” Let’s raise the stakes and aim for a government that doesn’t look like the information-hiding governments of our past. That is change I can believe in.