Feds create a stat 'Napster'

Feds create a stat 'Napster'


Peer-to-peer networking is making its government debut at www.FedStats.gov and www.MapStats.gov.

By extending the technology that popularized Napster for sharing music files, statisticians at more than 100 agencies are sharing databases and maps on subjects from agriculture to transportation.

The statistical information remains on the individual agencies' Web servers, which form a so-called peer content network.

The Extensible Indexing Language indexes the content through the gateway server, matches up queries and organizes a hit list, much like an Internet search engine.

A more sophisticated portal now under construction at www.fedstats.net will let users submit query forms to retrieve statistical data by ZIP code or map location. FedStats will incorporate additional peer sites known as Digital Government Consortium grantees.

Brand Niemann, an Environmental Protection Agency computer scientist and member of the FedStats Interagency Task Force, is advocating queries via the low-cost FileMaker Pro relational database manager from FileMaker Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif.

A user's PC needs only FileMaker and a fixed IP address to join in the peer-to-peer sharing, EPA's Brand Niemann said.
Niemann said the database management system can format results from disparate sources in Extensible Markup Language for display on various PC or mobile browsers.

A user's PC would need only FileMaker and a fixed IP address to join the peer-to-peer sharing, he said. The participating government servers can be set to share their data only with a stated range of IP addresses or with all addresses.

If a server goes down, its file listings turn red on its peer systems' directories. Niemann said some degree of database replication might be necessary to ensure full-time availability.

The PCs and servers that share their agencies' statistics through the FedStats portal must have special peer-to-peer software. NextPage NXT 3 software from NextPage Inc. of Lehi, Utah, is installed on each of the statistical systems at about 70 agencies, Niemann said.

The lowdown

He declined to say how much the government paid to use NXT 3 on all FedStats servers, but a 10,000-seat commercial license costs about $85,000, he said.

The company site, at www.nextpage.com, said an NXT 3 platform must have Microsoft Windows NT Server 4.0 or Windows 2000; Microsoft Internet Information Server or Netscape Enterprise Server; at least 128M of RAM; 50M of free storage; and cookies enabled. A SunSoft Solaris version of NXT 3 will be available later.

The core components of NXT 3 are called content adapters. On the fly, they render into Extensible Markup Language the disparate formats of leading DBMSes, Hypertext Markup Language, Adobe Portable Document Format, and applications such as Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

'They leave the content where it is in native format,' Niemann said, but display it via XML style sheets for browser viewing. 'You don't have to export anything in XML.'


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