The recent U.S. government shutdown has left a lot of people more discouraged than ever about the abilities of our elected representatives in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere. Now that the government is back open for shenanigans - er, I mean, business - this is probably a good time to point out that some people in government are actually doing some things right. At least they are if you’re a fan of open source and open data, in which case there was some extra good news last week, aside from the end of the shutdown showdown.
Last week, GitHub announced the creation of government.github.com, a site that brings together all of the GitHub-hosted open source projects owned by governments and civic-minded techies around the world. The site currently includes over 120 organizations from all over the world, including those representing national governments and departments, states, counties, cities and civic hackers. All in all they represent hundreds of repositories.
I took a spin through a number of the repos to see what’s there. As you would imagine, there’s source code for any number of interesting tools and applications. Like, for example:
A tool that generates geo-coordinates for postal addresses using Census Bureau data
A browser-based tool for helping city planners share and gather input on street layouts; users can design changes to their streets, by, for example, adding bike paths, widening sidewalks or traffic lanes
Code for extracting data from text-based PDF’s in CSV format
Governments are also using GitHub to share open data, including geospatial data and maps
YAML-formatted contact information for members of Congress, based on website contact forms
The locations of farmers' markets in Philadelphia, presented in GeoJSON format
Bike rack locations in Chicago, in CSV format
Finally, government organizations are using GitHub to crowdsource policies and share laws.
Naturally, the code powering government.github.com is also open sourced.
All in all, a pretty interesting collection of tools and data. Let’s hope the use of open source and open data by governments continue to grow. Gee, I can’t think of any government web sites that could maybe benefit from open source collaboration (<cough>HealthCare.gov</cough>). Can you?
UPDATE (10/22/13 9:40am): Just after this post was pubished, I saw that there's a petition on the White House's We the People site to make the code for HealthCare.gov open source, so the people can help to fix it. Sign on if you agree!
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