State weighs open data project to improve public information

State officials are in town today discussing how they might go about launching an open data initiative to help improve access to public information. Several members of the tech community are there, and have been tweeting throughout the morning. We'll embed some of the comments below.

Such a project might be similar to the work that Baltimore City and other local governments have done. On the city's Open Baltimore site, you can find all sorts of tax, traffic citation and other information that has helped lead to features in The Sun.


-- For instance, check out our speed camera finder for the city.

Some have complained that the city should do a better job making the updates for its information more regular and predictable. If a developer builds an application to, say, look up crime information in a neighborhood, that program will work best if users understand how current the data will be at a given time.


Other information, including about city contracts, has come in incomplete, The Baltimore Sun has found. The state will likely want to think about some of this as it plans its rollout.

Bryan Sivak, chief innovation officer in the governor's office, organized the meeting. He said he is in the very early stages of determining how such a program would be set up, but today's discussion suggested that it should be more than just a repository for data.

Maryland already puts a lot of information about how the government runs through its StateStat program, but is looking for a way to make it more useful to the public. What he doesn't want to do is "throw a bunch of data sets up on the web, throw up my hands, and say, 'We're done.'"

"One of the things that the state has not really accomplished yet is figuring out [how to release] how to release the data in a machine-readable and accessible way," he said. Some of that challenge involves working out technical methods for people and applications to interact with data.

A big question is whether the state should make the tools for people to interpret data, or should put the information out there and let the private sector figure out the presentation.

"Governments are not necessarily good at creating things that are beautiful," Sivak said.