DATA MANAGEMENT

Standards body issues draft advisory on maintaining open government data

While building out publicly facing data repositories, government agencies should cleanly separate the user interface layer from the data being presented, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) advises in a draft report on maintaining open government data.

"External parties can create new and exciting interfaces that may not be obvious to the data publishers. For that reason, do not compromise the integrity of the data to create flashy interfaces," the report states. "If you must create an interface, then publish the data separate from the interface and ensure external parties have direct access to the raw data, so they can build their own interfaces if they wish."

The paper, titled "Publishing Open Government Data," is one of the first deliverables from the newly formed W3C eGovernment Interest Group, the mission of which is to help governments around the world share standards-based best practices.

The creation of the report was influenced, in part, from feedback provided by a meeting the group held in March in Washington to solicit ideas from federal agencies. After sifting through the feedback it gets in this report and other endeavors, the group may also eventually issue government-specific standards to help better use the Web, noted group liaison Sandro Hawke, in an interview with GCN.

Responding to the new administration's call for greater transparency, agencies may be eager to post more of their data online.

"The quickest and easiest way to make data available on the Internet is to publish the data in its raw form," the report states, adding that the data format used should be machine-readable, such as by being encoded in the Extensible Markup Language, Resource Description Framework or laid out in a Comma Separated Values file. By structuring data in this fashion, third-party computers can better reorganize and reuse the data. "Formats that only allow the data to be seen, rather than extracted (for example, pictures of the data), are not useful and should be avoided."

The working group advises, however, that the user interface be separate from the underlying data set. The idea is to make agency Web sites act like "file servers," the paper states. Tools, such as the Extensible Stylesheet Language, can render data sets into forms that are easy for humans to scan on a Web page.

Agencies should take some additional steps to ensure the material gets into the right hands, the report suggested. Data directories, such as Data.Gov should be set up, which will allow third-parties to peruse the contents. Documents should be given permanent Uniform Resource Locators or Identifiers, so that they will be able to be accessed through the years.

While building out publicly facing data repositories, government agencies should cleanly separate the user interface layer from the data being presented, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) advises in a draft report on maintaining open government data.

"External parties can create new and exciting interfaces that may not be obvious to the data publishers. For that reason, do not compromise the integrity of the data to create flashy interfaces," the report states. "If you must create an interface, then publish the data separate from the interface and ensure external parties have direct access to the raw data, so they can build their own interfaces if they wish."

The paper, titled "Publishing Open Government Data," is one of the first deliverables from the newly formed W3C eGovernment Interest Group, the mission of which is to help governments around the world share standards-based best practices.

The creation of the report was influenced, in part, from feedback provided by a meeting the group held in March in Washington to solicit ideas from federal agencies. After sifting through the feedback it gets in this report and other endeavors, the group may also eventually issue government-specific standards to help better use the Web, noted group liaison Sandro Hawke, in an interview with GCN.

Responding to the new administration's call for greater transparency, agencies may be eager to post more of their data online.

"The quickest and easiest way to make data available on the Internet is to publish the data in its raw form," the report states, adding that the data format used should be machine-readable, such as by being encoded in the Extensible Markup Language, Resource Description Framework or laid out in a Comma Separated Values file. By structuring data in this fashion, third-party computers can better reorganize and reuse the data. "Formats that only allow the data to be seen, rather than extracted (for example, pictures of the data), are not useful and should be avoided."

The working group advises, however, that the user interface be separate from the underlying data set. The idea is to make agency Web sites act like "file servers," the paper states. Tools, such as the Extensible Stylesheet Language, can render data sets into forms that are easy for humans to scan on a Web page.

Agencies should take some additional steps to ensure the material gets into the right hands, the report suggested. Data directories, such as Data.Gov should be set up, which will allow third-parties to peruse the contents. Documents should be given permanent Uniform Resource Locators or Identifiers, so that they will be able to be accessed through the years.

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