City leaders are brainstorming new strategies to make government data more appealing and useful to their residents. Find out how we're helping cities to be more open with members of their communities seeking public information.Continue reading
Michael Bloomberg pours millions into abortion fight
New FEC documents from Women Vote!, a Super PAC affiliated with Emily's List, show the former Mayor gave the group a $2 million cash infusion in July.Continue reading
Bloomberg Philanthropies throws its weight behind urban innovation
Bloomberg Philanthropies recently launched the Mayors Challenge, a contest for funding in the European Union where large cities submit new, innovative ideas for solving local problems.Continue reading
Brady Campaign marks anniversary with ad
As Sarah Brady appears Tuesday at the National Press Club to mark the upcoming 20th anniversary of the gun background check law that bears her husband's name, the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence is urging Congress to "finish the job" by expanding background checks to apply to all gun sales.
In a one-minute cartoon style ad, narrated in a lisping, child-like voice, the Brady Campaign -- which Sarah Brady chairs -- asks whether Congress' refusal to extend background checks is a sign that lawmakers are "rooting for the bad guys." Last spring, the Senate voted down a bill to expand ...Continue reading
Bloomberg sugary drink ban has powerful opponents
Mayor Michael Bloomberg's announcement that the city will pursue a ban on large sugary drinks sold at restaurants, movie theatres, and other locations is just the latest attempt in his campaign against obesity--one that has so far met with little success in the face of a powerful food lobby, one sometimes joined by odd bedfellows.
In 2010, when his administration asked the federal government for permission to prohibit New York City food stamp recipients from purchasing sugary drinks with their benefits, the Food Industry Alliance of New York State, a trade group representing New York State grocers and other ...Continue reading
The Market For Government Data Heats Up
Those interested in the business potential of government data will definitely want to check out Washingtonian's story about Bloomberg Government. It's a good introduction to what really does seem to be the D.C. media landscape's newest 800 lb. gorilla (albeit a very quiet and well-behaved one so far).
Readers of this site will probably be most intrigued by these two pragraphs:
[...] BGov subscribers, of whom there are currently fewer than 2,000 individuals, get something potentially more valuable than news. BGov’s “killer app”—the feature that sets it so far apart from its competition that prospective customers will feel compelled to buy it—is a database that lets users track how much money US government agencies spend on contracts, something no other media organization in Washington offers. Users can break down the spending by agency, company, amount, or congressional district; they can track the money over time; and with a single mouse click, they can call up news associated with the companies and the type of work they do. They can also see which contractors are giving money to elected officials.
All that information is extraordinarily hard to gather, largely because the government doesn’t store it in one place. But when it’s collected, and explained by journalists, the data has the potential to give businesses an inside track on winning government deals. It shows where spending trends are heading and thus where the next business opportunity lies.
Data quality problems aside, this is true as far as it goes -- I've seen a demo of the BGov interface, and it really is quite impressive. But in fact the data isn't that spread out. Between Sunlight's APIs, bulk data from USASpending.gov, GIS data from Census and the admittedly hard-to-scrape Regulations.gov, any startup with enough time and technical talent could replicate the majority of the site's functionality (the business intelligence data provided by Bloomberg Financial is an admittedly tougher nut to crack). That's the great thing about public sector information: it's there for the taking. Anyone can use it.
I've written about this before, and generally argued that government data is a tough thing to create a business around because there's no way to prevent competitors from undercutting you. But there's money to be made in the undercutting. Mike Bloomberg thinks it's worthwhile to bet $100 million on reselling government data. He's made some pretty good business decisions in the past. A smart startup might want to take the hint.
(Of course, nobody will be building businesses on this data if it goes offline -- please don't forget to support our work to save the data)Continue reading
Selling Free Data
It wasn't too long ago that I talked about how hard it is to create a business on open data. So it's probably worthwhile to talk about an open data business that popped up shortly after that post: CQ's First Street. As this writeup mentions, it's just one of a bunch of new services that are launching around business intelligence in the government space -- Bloomberg and Politico are also creating subscription offerings designed to help lobbyists and contractors achieve more success.
But what are these services selling? An awful lot of it is already free. Contact info for legislators or their staff. Lobbyist registrations. Legislative info. Campaign finance information. Data about grant and contract spending.
I've linked to Sunlight projects, but of course there are many other great services who offer this kind of data gratis. So if this stuff is free, why are people paying for it?
Well, obviously these services are offering some added value. First and foremost there's the aggregation function: collecting the data into a usefully centralized interface is the core of these products. In some cases they add value by offering data that can't be gotten anywhere else: original reporting, or cleaned or otherwise improved versions of the data (for instance, Bloomberg bought Eagle Eye, which scrubs USASpending data; and Sunlight's staff directory is created from expenditure reports, not the canonical, non-digital staff directories available on the hill). Finally, and not insignificantly, these services have brands and sales staff that help them find paying customers.
I think it's safe to say that helping lobbyists more effectively manipulate congress is not the use of open data that we at Sunlight are most excited about. But we really are glad to see these businesses evolve and succeed: they help create demand for better data offerings (and their staff members often turn out to be the kinds of folks we get along with at conferences).
Still, this is an area where the underlying data is basically available to anyone. Any developer can try their hand at making a better, cheaper service. I don't know if this particular market will be large enough (or free enough from the principal agent problem) to turn into the hyper-competitive race to the bottom that it could be. But I do know that the data you can get for free is going to keep improving -- we're doing our best to make sure of it.Continue reading
The Price of Access
An article in Monday’s New York Times announced that Bloomberg LP is expanding their DC publishing work, and investing heavily in... View ArticleContinue reading
Congress vs. Hedge Funds
This Bloomberg story that covered how James Simons, the highest-paid hedge-fund manager in the U.S. last year (and one of the Forbes 500 richest Americans), could pay enough in Medicare taxes to provide health insurance for about 4,800 senior citizens is a good story about a policy fight that is about to be engaged. Rep. Sander Levin has proposed requiring that the earnings of such executives to be classified as compensation and subject them to the 2.9 percent Medicare tax.
But as a policy story, there was more I wanted to know, not the least of which was an understanding of the chances of Levin's proposal becoming law.Continue reading