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Congress

Data, Data Everywhere

May 16, 2012

So far, the Obama Administration's push to encourage software developers to use monstrous, freely available government datasets in consumer apps is generating more light than heat.

It's not clear why access to 600 gazillion terabytes (or thereabouts) of free, machine-readable data covering traffic accidents, copper smelting, phytoplankton cell counts and other fascinating, everyday topics have only inspired, at last count, 85 mobile apps.

To counter this data ennui, and to launch a special section of Data.gov focusing on transportation and consumer product safety, the administration hosted a data pep rally on Wednesday, with U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park acting as cheerleader-in-chief.

Senior officials from Labor, Transportation, Consumer Product Safety Commission and others, made presentations (some live, some via recorded video) designed to stimulate interest in translating raw data into simple, navigable apps that consumers can use on mobile devices.

Seth Harris, Deputy Labor Secretary, announced a contest with a $30,000 prize to build a work safety app that uses Occupational Safety and Health Administration data to encourage workers to recognize and report safety violations. A successful app, Harris said, would ultimately reduce OSHA inspector visits by encouraging workplaces to respond directly to worker safety complaints.

Currently, Data.gov website lists just four consumer safety applications. One app, SaferBus, designed to alert bus travelers to safety violations by operators, has inspired a measly three reviews on the Apple App Store.

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