High hopes for open web portal for NY State

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The New York State Freedom of Information Law states:

"The legislature hereby finds that a free society is maintained when government is responsive and responsible to the public, and when the public is aware of governmental actions. The more open a government is with its citizenry, the greater the understanding and participation of the public in government."

While this statement is a great ideal, freedom of information does not equal open data. Recently, I was searching for property data on a public website in a particular county in New York State. I was able to find what I was looking for, but rather than being available in a format that would have been easily portable or open it was instead embedded in a word processing document. I was forced to take a screen picture and then transcribe the data for my own use. Wouldn't it be nice if your national, state, and local governments had data you were interested in that was in a format that you could import into any of your own data analysis tools?

"The Open New York web portal will allow researchers, citizens, business and the media direct access to high-value data, which will be continually added to and expanded, so these groups can use the data to innovate for the benefit of all New Yorkers." —Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, State of the State Address, January 9, 2013

At the same time as the launch of Open Government New York, Cuomo issued Executive Order Number 95, "Using Technology to Promote Transparency, Improve Government Performance and Enhance Citizen Engagement." This unprecedented move directed state entities to identify and catalogue their data and make it available on the new state open government website. New technology has changed the way the state does business, and there is a public expectation that this data should be freely available and in a format that is easy to manipulate.

On March 11, 2013 New York State launched open.ny.gov which is dedicated to increasing public access to data. The state hopes to spark innovation, foster research, provide economic opportunities, and increase public participation in state government. Officials hope this increase in transparency will better inform decision making throughout the state.

The Open New York web portal

Open New York web portal provides general categories including education, economic development, energy and environment, and many more. A special section is dedicated to developers invites the creation of applications that are innovative and practical. The portal runs on Drupal CMS, Ruby on Rails, PHP, and Nginx. The data access engine runs on Socrata, a proprietary software that uses a proprietary SQL.

There are a number of different views for each dataset, including charts, maps, calendars and filtered views. Data can be downloaded as CSV, CSV for Excel, JSON, PDF, RSS, XLS, XLSX, XML. Embed codes can be easily obtained and placed in video guides that are linked from the site in order to help a new user gain familiarity with the site and the data interface. Supported browsers on Linux include Firefox and Chrome.

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Educator, entrepreneur, open source advocate, life long learner, Python teacher. M.A. in Educational Psychology, M.S. Ed. in Educational Leadership, Linux system administrator.

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