OPEN GOVERNMENT — "Can California's budget-stricken government be improved through citizen
engagement and civic developers?" asks Alex Howard, reporting in Radar O'Reilly. "If a new application contest that
launches this week bears digital fruit, there just might be an app for
The state of California will partner with Microsoft, Google and Programmable Web to run an
apps contest this summer. "While California is one of the anchor
supporters, it wouldn't be possible without the help of the Center for Digital Government,
which brought together the framework for the contest to be held,' said
Adrian Farley, chief deputy CIO for the State of California, speaking in
an interview Tuesday morning. "Without their sponsorship, this wouldn't
For those keeping score, that means two of the biggest technology
companies in the world will be partnering with California to bring its
open data to life. And the applications developed to create value from
that open government data are likely to run on the iPhone, made by
Apple, the company that brought the concept of a platform for
applications to unprecedented heights.
Winners will be presented with their prizes at the "Best of the Web"
awards in Hollywood in mid-September. The app contest will be coupled
with a refreshed Data.CA.gov, which is
now in soft launch. Data.CA.gov now 400 major data sources, including
XLS, CSV and XML formats. State officials estimate the site
conservatively contains over 100 million records.
Government-backed open data contests are now widespread across the
United States. The District of Columbia's Apps
for Democracy contest, based on Washington's data catalog, was
followed by Apps for America, which used datasets from data.gov. The Army will announce the
winners of its Apps for the Army contest in August. And the World Bank
will be stimulating innovation around its new data catalog, data.worldbank.org.
Application contests hold particular appeal for states in rough
budget shape. The value of the software created is often worth more than
the prize money distributed. Peter Corbett, the founder of iStrategy
Labs, recently said Washington, D.C. estimated the value of the software
created by the first Apps for Democracy competition to be in
excess of $2.2 million. That contest gave out $20,000 in cash
"We've been looking at the idea of doing an application development
contest for quite a while," said Farley. "We wanted to come up with
something that would differentiate what we did from other app contests.
We looked at our ability to pull together data sources from local
government and fed sources, including how multiple data sources could be
integrated to create the next level of mashups."
What might be possible? "There is, for instance, an opportunity
to create an interesting mashup around GIS data and data related to
environmental protection. That could be used to engage citizens,
extending the reach of government by creating a larger enforcement
network. With dwindling resources, government doesn't have the ability
to adequately monitor natural resources with personnel. Technology can
"A re-occurring theme in IdeaScale
was that the state-released
data in APIs could be used by the development community," said
Carolyn Lawson, California's Deputy Director, Technology Services
Governance Division, Director of the eServices Office. "We'll be
working with Microsoft's open government solution and
Google's Fusion Table to make that a reality. We've been converting
those data sets with those cloud tools."
Lawson says that as she's talked with cities and counties, there's a
great deal of interest throughout the state's government community in
getting involved. "We have commitments from the city of Los Angeles, Los
Angeles county, and the city and county of San Francisco now," she
When the California government sought comment from its technology
community, one consistent point of feedback was that government was
turned inward, Lawson said.
"We need to get competition out of the government space. As a result, we
chose to partner with Programmable Web, one of the largest mashup
communities online. We've been loading links to APIs and data into it
Once the infrastructure is in place, Lawson said her office
will use IdeaScale to ask citizens what kinds of civic apps they
want to see developed. "We're going to try get the conversation going
for non-technical constituents," she said.
Farley pointed to the possibility of applying technology filters to
crowdsourcing initiatives. "There's an interesting effort underway
around imagery that scientists are getting back from the moon, where
they're crowdsourcing identification of different geological formats on
the moon. Thre may be an opportunity to apply a similar technical tool
How will procurement or acquisition of applications developed for
California work? "We haven't predefined what will happen afterwards,"
said Farley. "Under the contest rules as they've been set up, the state
does not take ownership. We've licensed through the contest the ability
to use applications developed. The developer maintains ownership of it.
We think that empowers developers in the way other contests haven't.
They can continue to add value something they've developed. This will
serve as a proving ground for other governments that want to purchase
Farley emphasized that any application developed for the contest must
be freely available through mobile apps store and on the open Web.
There is room for a so-called "freemium" model thrive, however, as this
ecosystem develops. "Despite the fact that a specific app that leverages
open data and API that we're making available, other organizations
could pay the developer to improve upon it," saod Farley. "They could
develop a 'light' version of the app for free, and then use their
technical ability to 'upsell' with additional features. A developer can
differentiate as much as they want from what they've submitted to the
Farley pointed out that there are already multiple commercial apps
that leverage California state transportation data. "For instance. there
are a few apps on iTunes that people can purchase that have transit
info, schedules and other transit info that are popular," he said.
There's also an emphasis on including government employees in
developing applications. "We're really encouraging state employees,
though it may not be their current job function, to use their free time
and deep knowledge of the data to apply it to development.
So how big of a deal is it that Google, Microsoft, Programmable Web
and the state of California are working together on this contest?
said that the state of California has a strong and deep relationship
with the Google and Microsoft. "Both companies have reached out to the
state," said Farley. "We've reached our to them to bring innovation to
citizen and push the envelope on issues like data center efficiency.
"We have been very fortunate in the partnerships we've been able to
forge with large technology companies," said Farley. "Both Google and
Microsfoft have shown a commitment to open data. That commitment is what
we thought to further through their partnership in this contest. The
first partnership that the state did with Google and Microsoft was
actually around education data and a Web portal that helps parents to
evaluate schools through open data. We see this application contest as
extension of that cooperation."