I’ve been laboring for a few months on a paper about government transparency on the internet and I’m happy to say that it’s now available as a working paper. In it I show that a lot of government information that is supposed to be publicly available is only nominally available because it’s not online. When data does make it online it’s often useless; it’s as if the .gov domain has a prohibition on XML and reliable searches.
First I look at independent third parties (such as GovTrack.us) that are doing yeoman’s work by picking up the slack where government fails and making data available online in flexible formats. Then I look at yet other third parties who are taking the liberated data and using them in mashups (such as MAPLight.org) and crowdsourcing (such as our own Jim Harper’s WashingtonWatch.com). Mashups of government data help highlight otherwise hidden connections and crowdsourcing makes light work of sifting through mountains of data. If I may corrupt Eric Raymond’s Linus’s Law for a moment, “Given enough eyeballs, all corruption is shallow.” In the coming days I plan to write a bunch more on how online tools can shed light on government, including a series dissecting the FCC’s website–not for the squeamish.
I believe opening up government to online scrutiny is immensely important. If we’re going to hold government accountable for its actions, we need to know what those actions are. The Sunlight Foundation has been doing fantastic work on this front and I would encourage you to visit them and especially their Open House Project blog. I would also encourage you to send me any comments you might have on my paper as I’m still perfecting it before I submit it to journals.