Gotham Gazette has launched a new “Tech” feature, and this month, they explore access to City Data. The conclusion? It’s messy out there on the City-run internet:
“The city puts out a lot of information that residents can use to monitor the performance of local government – so much information that, unless you know exactly what you’re looking for, you will quickly drown in it,” they wrote. The authors go on to address many issues: map data is generally presented in too many different formats to allow easy comparisons; the most common data distribution format, the PDF, cannot be edited and is a nightmare for those collecting data for entry/analysis; and the City isn’t keeping up with its data distribution in a timely manner.
While third-party sites such as Everyblock.com are addressing some of these issues by distributing data in more user-friendly formats, even one of that site’s employees says it’s “absurd” that city agencies leave this up to third parties: “It’s unethical for cities to say that some external service is going to be essential to displaying city service requests,” he said.
The authors suggest some changes, including, “The Bloomberg administration could go further by adopting the best practices from other cities and using open standards across all agencies. That would help residents conduct their own analysis or convert it into the format that works best for them.” Council Member Gale Brewer also recommends a “carrot” to encourage agencies to comply with the local law that requires online information distribution.