In an effort to make good on his campaign promise to increase government transparency, President Barack Obama's Administration has launched data.gov, a website intended to enhance public access to vast troves of previously inaccessible government information. Sound exciting? It isn't. Conspiracy junkies hoping to tap into secret CIA files or to find out who really killed JFK are out of luck. The data catalog includes just 47 documents most of which would only appeal to those desperate for information on migratory bird patterns or unconsolidated stream sediments. (Read "A Brief History of the National Archives.)
The mundane sets of stats many of which requite specialized software to access make data.gov a tough sell to the general public. Vivek Kundra, the federal government's chief information officer and the site's manager, has explained that the contents are rapidly expanding. He encourages web developers to use the raw information to create new, user-friendly web applications. "With your help, Data.gov will continue to grow and change in the weeks, months and years ahead," he advises on the site's homepage.
The Sunlight Foundation, a D.C.-based non-profit, has furthered that cause by launching Apps for America 2: the Data.gov Challenge, a competition that will award $25,000 in prize money to the developers of the applications that makes the best use of the information available on the site. "Government has made a move in the right direction now it's time for us to show them what we can do," urges Clay Johnson, the director of Sunlight Labs.
Until these apps are developed, there are few features on the site that are useful to we laypeople. Sure, you can pinpoint the location of every copper smelter in the world. But who knows when that may come in handy?See TIME's pictures of the week.