Study says Uncle Sam should get out of Web publishing

Driving force behind the the Internet unable to fully embrace its second incarnation

For example, the report cited the mashup MapLight.org, which combines the voting record of Congress with information about campaign donations to those members.

"The policy route to realizing this principle is to require that federal government Web sites retrieve the underlying data using the same infrastructure that they have made available to the public," the report noted. "Such a rule incentivizes government bodies to keep this information in good working order and ensure that private parties will have no less an opportunity to use public data than the government itself does."

Robinson noted that there are both cultural and policy related barriers to such a shift in the government's Web role. First, the E-Government Act of 2002 requires that each agency put its contributions to the Federal register and other data on a "public Web site." But the report suggested that the federal government could easily create a general "government information browser" that could display any item of government information in a simple, plain and universally accessible format.

"Extremely simple Web sites that enable a structured data browser to display any and all government information may satisfy the letter of the existing law while the thriving marketplace of third party solutions realizes its spirit better than its drafters imagined," according to the report.

Robinson acknowledged that some users could have concerns about the authenticity of government data coming from a third-party instead of the agency itself. He said he imagined that the third-party publishers would provide links back to the raw data on the agency Web sites.

"In an open marketplace where anybody ?can build an interface, you're going to find that there are a lot of different people who might want to construct interfaces," Robinson added. "Much as one can turn to a news outlet that one trusts ?you could turn to a Web site that you trust because you trust the architects of the site."

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Heather Havenstein

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