When troves of information are opened to programmers, problems get solved.
. Mayors in New York,Chicago, and elsewhere have opened up a fire hose of data about their cities. This flood of information has allowed city workers to stay on top of problems – some of which they never knew existed – and has helped launch new businesses within the city limits.
"When I joined as chief data officer, the initial goal for releasing all of this data was transparency," says Brett Goldstein, who heads Chicago's Department of Innovation and Technology. "But along the way, we learned a couple of really interesting things. We learned that open data can do so much more than that."
About a year ago, Scott Robbin, a programmer in Chicago, appr
oached Mr. Goldstein with an idea. He wanted an application that could send e-mails or text messages to residents as a street sweeper approached their homes, giving people an extra reminder to move their cars. Goldstein liked the idea – he'd received a few tickets of his own – but his team would likely never find time to create such an app. It didn't need to. The city found the data, published it online, and let the community take it from there. Shortly after the database went public, Mr. Robbin launched SweepAround.Us as a free online service.