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Communities crop up around Data.gov

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Officials at the government repository Data.gov launched a new community on Saturday that provides forums for developers to share experiences, ask questions and request data sets that aren’t yet available.

Officials wanted Developers.Data.gov to be available in time for the Sunlight Foundation’s Transparency Camp Saturday and Sunday, an annual meeting of journalists, developers and others aimed at increasing government transparency, Data.gov Director Jeanne Holm said.

The developers group joins several other Data.gov communities that are built mostly around particular types of federal information, such as energy, law and oceans.

In the near future, officials will launch Cities.Data.gov, which will be focused on pulling together federal information related to administration and open data from participating localities, Holm told Nextgov recently. Holm has been speaking about the initiative with open data advocates inside city halls in New York, Chicago and Seattle and other spots, she said.

Officials also are planning new Data.gov communities focused on public safety and research, according to Holm. The research community will be broadly defined, but will focus in part on strengthening relations with the academic research community, she added. Data.gov, which the Obama administration launched in 2009, is aimed at giving researchers and Web and mobile app developers a single point to access troves of government-gathered information such as surveys, studies and geographic information systems maps.

Officials posted about 400,000 data sets to the site during its first three years.

During an open forum in March, developers complained to Holm that federal data sets posted to Data.gov are frequently of low quality, making it difficult to work with them. Spreadsheets, for example, sometimes don’t put numbers in a common form from one entry to the next.

Holm told Nextgov that her primary goal is to have more agencies and divisions to contribute data to Data.gov and to get them to provide new information automatically. Improving data quality is an important, but secondary goal, she said.

“Some open data advocates are all about having five-star [data] formats, but in order to get to five stars you have to start with one star,” she said.

Officials in March launched the new community Ethics.Data.gov, a collection of seven major data sets focused on government transparency, including the White House visitors log and lobbying disclosure forms.

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