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Despite shortcomings, state's new data portal a step in right direction

Photo by Jakub Krechowicz

Just as the federal government launched data.gov to make data collected by the federal government more easily accessible by the public, California has launched it's own catalog of state-specific data. Data.ca.gov is part of the new face of California on the World Wide Web and attempts to catalog the publicly available data collected by the state.

The state's Web portal is typically overhauled every year, and "this redesign was mainly completed in-house by state workers … but a contractor also aided the process at a cost of $90,000," according to an article appearing in Government Technology Magazine.

While data.ca.gov is a great start to pulling together the state's data, it's still in its infancy and could use a good amount of user feedback. For instance, I couldn't find links to the state's treasure trove of K-12 education data. There is a link to the California Department of Education Data Quest app, but what if I want the entire public schools database so I can map the schools using the latitudes and longitudes in the data? I'd still have to dig around to find it on my own since it's not linked to directly on data.ca.gov.

I'd also put a plug in for the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development map data to be linked to from data.ca.gov. The California Healthcare Facilities Catalog is particularly useful and should be linked to from data.ca.gov.

Ideally, data.ca.gov would have a dataset, a description and a direct link to where that dataset lives inside the vast ca.gov domain. Still, data.ca.gov as it is right now goes a long way toward getting there, by begining to lash together the rivers of California data in one, centralized, place. No easy feat.

To its credit, the site also links to "cities with open data sources," and if that list fills out it would be a huge accomplishment. One suggestion to add to the list would be SanGIS. Its an invaluable source of map data for San Diego County. If every county were represented on here and followed the admirable SanGIS model, citizens would have an amazingly useful access point to the map data they pay to produce. And the state of California might even see some innovative and useful applications of the data by users out on the Web.

The current Apps for Californians contest suggests that Sacramento already sees the value of using regular citizens to help wrangle government data. Here's to hoping this trend continues far into the future with more open, easily accessible data.

Everyone stands to benefit.

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