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Open Data’s Business Value Isn’t That Important

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opendata

The recent Open Government Partnership meetings in London have provided a good opportunity to assess the direction of our community. The latest comes from Jonathan Gray, and the title -- Open government should be about accountability and social justice, not the digital economy -- more or less speaks for itself.

I agree with Jonathan's diagnosis of distinct strains within the open government data community. But I don't think they have to be in tension. I've argued before that a big tent is beneficial to us all -- that blurring the lines between open data for accountability and open data for economic development can serve both constituencies' needs. After all, the great thing about open information is that its supply is limitless.

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We Have a Winner!

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winnerLast week we celebrated our billionth API call by announcing a giveaway, and Tuesday we went ahead and pulled the name of a random API user who had made at least one successful query. I've been emailing with him since, and am please so say that Matt Gabrenya is our winner! You can find his Github profile here, and his business site, Boston TechCollective, here. Matt used our APIs to power his BillTrack project, which aims to make it easier to run advocacy campaigns on issues like SOPA and the Keystone XL pipeline. We're delighted that Matt found our APIs useful, and thrilled that thousands of you have as well. We're going to keep making them better, deeper and more powerful; we're counting on all of you to put them to good use.

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Easy Problems, Hard Problems and Healthcare.gov

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a screenshot from healthcare.gov This Reuters article about Healthcare.gov has been getting some attention today. Alas, it's not very good, focusing on client-side optimizations that are probably unrelated to the site's early woes. Healthcare.gov's problems are almost certainly occurring at a deeper level of the system, making it very difficult, if not impossible, for an outsider to gauge their seriousness. To explain, let's do one of those analogy things. Say that Kathleen is planning a birthday party for herself.

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What Happens to .gov in a Shutdown?

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john boehner with a thought bubble saying 'sudo shutdown -h now'

A federal government shutdown looks more likely by the hour, and there's no shortage of explainers on the web about what it all means (Wonkblog is an excellent place to start, as is our rundown from the 2011 shutdown fight). The line between "excepted" (gets to keep working) and "non-excepted" (gets shut down) is drawn on an agency-by-agency basis, and the specific determination is based on the importance of the function and how illegal ceasing to do it might be. But aside from some obvious ones--national parks would be closed; the CO2 scrubber on the International Space Station would stay plugged in--it'll be agency leadership that makes the determinations. But what will this mean for the federal web?

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Nonprofit E-File Data Should Be Open

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The IRS is refusing to release digital e-file data for public documents filed by nonprofits--instead, they release it as PDFs. This introduces wasteful barriers for people who want to use this data. Carl Malamud's been fighting to fix this problem. We at Sunlight join him in calling for the IRS to release 990 e-file data.

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Making Open Government Data Sustainable

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Earlier this week, David Eaves kicked off a fascinating conversation with a post on TechPresident. Titled "Optimism, Fear and the Knight News Challenge," it raises important questions about how open government work is supported and sustained. In particular, David focused on Democracy Map, one of two KNC finalist projects from friend-of-Sunlight Phil Ashlock. Democracy Map aims to improve U.S. citizens' ability to determine who represents them at all levels of government. David argues that a subsidy from Knight to DM could threaten the business of companies like Cicero that are trying to solve the problem through a commercial offering. Once the Knight money dries up, will Democracy Map still be around? Or will it only last long enough to kill off Cicero?

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Measuring Lobbyists with Raspberry Pi

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A few of us in the labs dabble in hardware hacking, and we were all pretty excited by the debut of the Raspberry Pi. So when we saw that MAKE Magazine was running a contest for creative uses of the Pi, we figured we'd better enter. As it happens, I had picked up a handsome vintage voltmeter at Uncommon Objects during a recent trip to Austin, and had been toying with the idea of making it Pi-enabled. With this competition for inspiration I decided to take the plunge.

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