When I was Utah's CIO, I wrote what I called the Web Services Manifesto to create a list of principles that I though all government agencies should follow whenever they created an online resource. Their goal: set the data free.
The idea is that government can't ever hope to create all the useful information resources that people need. For eGoverment to move beyond the "here's a good way to search our data" stage, these applications need to be shared and mashed-up. I hoped that by creating Web services where XML was always available, we'd allow others to build the services they needed that we'd never even think to build.
It took some time, but some governments are starting to do just that. David Stephenson points to a Jon Udell column about the DC government's Center for Innovation and Reform. The first link in the main body is Live Data Feeds. Very nice.
Already, the first real mashup of this data has been built. Pick a location on the right hand side of the page and see where crimes have occurred, road repairs need done, or other service requests have been made. Talk about accountability!
DCStat is doing just that. The Atom and RSS feeds summarize activity, and all the details--including latitude and longitude--are included in DCStat's own XML format. Following the initial launch of the service request feed, new ones will appear at roughly two-week intervals throughout the summer and fall. These feeds will contain raw operational data about crime, property, housing code enforcement, and business and liquor licensing.
There are some loose ends. Although it's true that XML is a self-describing format, there is as yet no documentation to guide developers who want to build applications on top of the data, or analysts who want to interpret it. And because the first monthly cycle isn't yet complete, it's not obvious how to mesh daily, weekly, and monthly dumps. I expect these questions will be resolved soon, though.
Jon also notes Rhode Island's RESTful API for government services. Jim Willis, the guy behind this, is one of the big thinkers in eGovernment and one of the people quietly changing how government works.
I think we need a new award for eGovernment. There are already several, but they mostly concentrate on whether the state or city portal is useful. Not a bad start, but well below the level of service that having government data available in workable formats would enable. You may laugh, but governments pay attention to these kinds of awards big time because it palpable evidence that a governor or mayor can point to and say "we're doing a good job." The press pays attention to it as well, which is what makes governors and mayors care.