Monday, June 9, 2008

The state of the e-state?

So recently, there was a paper published by the Princeton's Information Technology Policy Center (will appear in the Yale Journal of Law and Technology, Fall 2008), basically stating that government should abandon costly individual sites in favor of raw, public information in structured, XML feeds, such as RSS. This idea has brought about a good amount of discussion among state web developers that I've had conversations with and I heartily approve of the idea in theory.

The basis of any site or service that government offers should have a foundation based on well-formed, XML data that is valid and properly structured. That data should be made available to the public, as well as used for internal and publicly available applications and agency sites. Kirk Keller talks about this over on Common, along with some of the advantages that are gained from such an approach.

But what about programs that the private sector might deem unimportant and chooses to not promote?

For instance, within the Missouri Department of Conservation there is a program promoting the importance of the various ecosystems and diverse habitat across the state. This project considers both the importance of the wildlife, as well as the habitats that such wildlife lives in. Excellent goals regardless of whether you're engaged in consumptive or non-consumptive activities.

What if the Department of Conservation simply made available the information regarding the habitats in the state, the various "Opportunity Areas" that the public can get involved with, as well as the wildlife that these areas affect? All of these various pieces of information are great in and of themselves. The problem is, there is no guarantee that a public interest will magically spring up and tie these elements together from their disparate systems.

I don't believe that we can just turn off public facing web sites for .gov, but I do think we should expect more from our e-government efforts in the form of valid, well-formed XML data that's publicly available. What do you think? Should we simply expect government to be the providers of raw information or should they also be expected to provide an accessible and usable, forward-facing sites to the public?

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