How Obama’s Open Data Order Could Save Lives, Energy Costs And Make Cool Apps

Posted: May 10, 2013 in Government, GT

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Readers may have noticed this morning that their
geekiest politically oriented friends are freaking out
like teenage girls at a Justin Bieber concert. Today,
the big man in the White House signed a rare
executive order that all federal data be made freely
accessible in a form that can be utilized by software developers, lovingly known as “machine-readable
format.” Below, we compiled a list of some of the
coolest applications developed with government data
and, below that, a brief explainer about why this new
initiative matters. 1. Global Position System Data: If you’re a fan of Google Maps, then you can thank Ronald Reagan for
releasing the government’s satellite data to digital
cartographers. After Korean Airlines Flight 007 was
notoriously gunned down over Soviet Airspace in
1983, the Gipper thought it was strategic for airlines
to be able to locate any plane in real time. Now, GPS is used in everything from maps to Yelp. 2. Saving Lives: San Ramon, Calif., firefighters worked with local hackers to develop an iPhone app
that automatically locates the nearest CPR-certified
citizen to a heart-attack happening near them. And
the potential for more life-saving apps is huge.
Harvard’s Info/Law blog surmised that patient heart
attack data related to the now defunct Vioxx drug could have saved 25,000 lives by giving researchers
a larger dataset from which to identify negative side
effects. 3. Energy Savings: Americans are well-known energy hogs, but sometimes that’s because energy is
ridiculously cheap and we’re too busy to think about
how to reduce. The Simple Energy mobile app plugs
into San Diego’s open-data smart grid and alerts
users to how their own energy use compares to their
neighbors’. In one pilot, the competition led to an 11 percent reduction in total energy use. Described as having a “high geek quotient” by his
staff, President Obama failed to inspire federal
agencies to open up more of their data to the public in
his first executive order in 2009, the Open
Government Directive. This new directive has more
teeth, and mandates that open data be integrated into all new projects, including a set of tools on the
popular social developer site GitHub. Essentially, the
burden is now on federal agencies to explain why
they haven’t released a dataset, upping the incentive
to just get it done. Open Data expert and journalist Alex Howard reminds
me that the new data could also allow Google to give
competition to expensive, entrenched government
data analytics companies, such as Bloomberg and
Lexis-Nexis.

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