Evan Ratcliff, writing at Wired, has an interesting take on the Stimulus Bill. He proposes that the government’s act of putting all the stimulus-spending data on Recovery.gov “may be more than a minor victory for the democracy. It could be a stimulus in and of itself.” By making government information available in databases with “machine-readable formats,” such as RSS, XML and KML, new business can be created, boosting the economy in the process. Ratcliff quotes Sean Forman, CEO of FortiusOne, “The data is the infrastructure.” Entrepreneurs, such as Forman, are eager to get their hands on spreadsheets “squirreled away on a federal agency server,” so they can turn a profit by making it useful to someone by reorganizing the data.
Ratcliff compares where we are to day with government data with the situation in 1996 when the feds opened up GPS signals to the public, spawning a $6 billion industry. He lists other examples: Tiger census data, Google Earth, Microsoft Visual Earth, Zillow, Trulia, CloudMade and Swivel as companies that are opening up government data that was previously out of reach to the public and making a buck in the process.
Now this is stimulus we can believe in.