Where Open Source, Open Data and government meet

The Obama administration recently excited the world of open source software by choosing to launch recovery.gov on Drupal. Their choice of a free, open source platform over any proprietary system is as hopeful and promising as the purpose of the website they built, which is to lend transparency to the spending of the $800 billion dollar economic stimulus money. We should be happy both that the U.S. government is embracing Open Source software, and that it is promoting Open Data.

I recently blogged about how hundreds of thousands of Drupal sites contain vast amounts of structured data, but that structure has been hidden deep in Drupal databases and never surfaced to the HTML level. To counter this, I'd like the upcoming version of Drupal to emit structured information through the addition of RDFa metadata for both common and custom content types. This could help the Obama administration with their goals around Open Data.

Instead of needing to do all of the data analysis themselves, governments should work on making data available in machine readable formats. This would have the effect of enabling citizens and organizations to query and combine that data, to answer interesting questions not asked before, and to build new services that help other citizens. Just look at Apps for Democracy.

According to Georges Thomas from recovery.gov, the Obama administration wants to do exactly that. Thomas presented some additional details on how they envisioned making all of that data available. Furthermore, they recently solicited proposals for what to technologies to use. Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web, submitted a proposal for Linked Open Data. Various people, including myself, wrote in to express our support for Tim Berners-Lee's proposal.

To achieve these goals, and help governments transition into an era of open, linked data, Drupal has some growing to do. As mentioned earlier, we are organizing code sprints that aim to make Drupal 7 a more powerful tool for managing RDF data.

Given that recovery.gov already runs Drupal, and given that I would like to see more Semantic Web technologies in core, I couldn't be more excited. With the right encouragement and technological tools, government sites can expose vast amounts of data covering an enormous range of concepts and topics. This data will be exposed in an open, reusable form that can be searched or leveraged by organizations and individuals as they require. We, the Drupal community, have a unique opportunity to help reshape how politics is done.

Step one is to make the data available — and that is exactly what we try to accomplish with Drupal 7 and beyond. Many of the technologies — such as RDF, RDFa, SIOC, FOAF, Oauth, and OpenID — are available. It's a simple matter of programming to start putting these together, and it takes projects like Drupal to help bootstrap them. Time to get our hands dirty!