open government


I've been reading a few Department of Education twitter feeds for the last few weeks, in part because I'm curious about the questions Bud Hunt has been asking, and in part because I'm curious to see how the Department of Ed will use some of the tools they talk about in their National Ed Tech plan.

The three accounts I've been reading are:

  • @EdPressSec: Official twitter account for Department of Education Press Secretaries Justin Hamilton & Sandra Abrevaya; and
  • @Ed_Outreach: Official feed of External Affairs & Outreach/US Department of Education. Connecting ED to education stakeholders; and
  • @usedgov: News and information from the U.S Department of Education

The streams consist largely of announcements about what Secretary Duncan is doing, and when he is covered (favorably) in the media. What's striking, though, are the number of retweets between the various accounts; the @EdPressSec account and the @Ed_Outreach account re-post each other -- and the @usedgov account -- on a regular basis. While I get it (they are, after all, working as publicists for the Department of Education), if they were talking about a dating site, or a Canadian pharmacy, or a get-rich-while-working-at-home plan, this behavior would likely result in their accounts being blocked as spammers.

Given the rhetoric we are hearing about the need to talk with stakeholders, and the need to use technology more effectively to change how people learn, it would be nice to see it modeled from the people who provide access to decision makers. If you want the conversation, then engage, and talk with us. But please, don't engage in spamming and call it outreach. : Making Public Data More Useable

Earlier this fall, Mayor Sam Adams and the City of Portland made some strides toward more open data and transparency in government. One step in this direction is the site at

I found the site via Justin Houk; shortly thereafter, Mayor Adams asked for any suggestions. At first glance, the site looks incredibly useful, and I'm glad to see the city moving in this direction. Here are some ideas that could be implemented on the platform.


  • Each alert should be its own entity, with a unique linkable url.
  • Alerts should be exposed via RSS feeds, and these feeds should be categorized by type of advisory, and zipcode (where it's relevant)
  • Events that can be mapped should contain geodata -- I'm specifically thinking about alerts and advisories about power outages, road construction, accidents, or other events that can tied to a specific place.
  • Alerts should be browsable by date.
  • Individual alerts could be pushed to Twitter (or any other external microblogging platform) with a standard format: [type of alert]: [headline]: [link]. Using this format, a traffic advisory would look like: Traffic alert: Construction on I5 SB starting Dec 12, 8:00 PM : http://some.url

Most of this data is already being published, but it is not being generated in a format that contains this additional metadata. For example, see the Trimet Alert page. The type of structured data I describe would be very easily achieved using a variety of freely available open source tools, such as Drupal. Unfortunately, it appears that the city of Portland's web presence runs (at least partially) on a Cold Fusion based monstrosity (look for the tell-tale .cfm at the end of some urls. The stench of a Cold Fusion-based site is unmistakeable; it reeks of decaying technology ;) ).

But using the formats I describe above, you could create a searchable map of construction data and see what roads are under construction during specific times of day. Or, you could take a look at Trimet bus routes in NE Portland and see if there were any service interruptions before your trip. The city of Portland is already putting the time into creating this data, but changing the format in which they published it would make it more reusable, and, ultimately, more useful to more people.

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