The Obama administration launched data.gov in April 2009, stating that all government data “that is not restricted for national security reasons can be made public” through data feeds. It promised to spearhead the federal open government movement and provide government-as-a-service that efficiently leveraged talents across the country.
Data.gov received mixed reviews. By a number of accounts, it has failed to be the transformative force it was slated to become. Why? Many claim the platform was not as open as it could be, in some cases requiring proprietary software to make use of the data. While such a public-private partnership can sometimes be efficient, a system that grants everyone equal access to content, regardless of the method, is vital for long-term success. If you doubt this, imagine websites that can only be visited by a certain browser.
This brings us to GeoNode, which is, in effect, a data.gov that you can host. It allows for the publishing, sharing, and dissemination of geospatial data and maps. It has built-in security settings, graphical map editing, and endless mashup potential. Most importantly, GeoNode operates entirely with openness in mind. GeoNode publishes data and maps using open standards, all the data is designed to be open and distributed (in any format you choose), and the code base itself is completely open source as well.
Agencies are starting to see the value of GeoNode. The World Bank has been using and advocating for GeoNode for some time now. And it’s not just the government sector, as we talked about back in February, Harvard’s Center for Geographic Analysis has been using GeoNode to extend the collaborative potential in its WorldMap application.
The demise of Data.gov is not, by any means, a blow for transparency. The problem that Data.gov was designed to solve still remains across all levels of government and we can learn some lessons from Data.gov. Government-as-a-service is in many ways still a nascent idea and the bugs are still being worked out. GeoNode can foster exactly the sort of openness and transparency that Data.gov was designed to accomplish.