Unlocking Government Data with Socrata

I was introduced to the API service provider Socrata last week. Socrata has a government data platform that exceeds anything I’ve envisioned. In the past, I have said that every state should have an API. Socrata looks like that platform.

Socrata says it best: “Social Data Discovery Solution Promotes Civic Engagement, Improves Decision and Policy Making, and Achieves Government Transparency.”

Socrata defines "Social Data Discovery" as a solution for public and private institutions to transform raw data, contained in large departmental databases, and deploy using the latest web and API technologies.  According to Socrata:

 “Social Data Discovery promotes civic engagement, enabling an online community of journalists, policy makers, scientists/domain experts, and citizens to visualize data and engage in discussion with one another. Together, audiences with disparate viewpoints can analyze and discover insights from datasets, improving decision and policy making.”

They seems to get the political, technical and economic challenges faced when delivering government data solutions, and provide a very comprehensive solution for city, county, state and federal agencies to manage their data:

  • Data-Set On-Boarding - A process, acknowledging the need to clean and transform data so its accessible by an external audience.
  • Web APIs - Ability to deploy RESTful APIs with for data sets with a key for authentication.
  • Datasets and Feeds - Availablity of datasets in common formats like CSV, TSV, XML, KML, and Atom.
  • Mobile - The platform appears to deliver necessary resources for iPhone, Android, and Blackery mobile platforms.
  • Management - Socrata appears to offer many of the essential API maangement services as other providers.
  • Analytics - Provides the necessary reporting and analytics to make sense of how data is being consumed and distributed.

The problem with trying to get data from government agencies, is often that you end up with PDF and MIcrosoft Excel reports, and not the quality data feeds and APIs developers need. In my post, “Every City, County and State Should Have an API”, I identify that government workers are only working with the tools we give them. They need better tools.

Socrata looks like just the tool for the job. Socrata appears to have all the key elements that government agencies will need to manage, publish and share important data with other agencies and the public using “Social Data Discovery”. I’m thoroughly impressed with what they’ve delivered for our government in the form of Data.gov. They also provide solutions for MediCare, State of Oregon, State of Oklahoma, City of Seattle and City of Chicago, among others.

This is just my first look at the platform. I will be spending more time evaluating what they offer. If you’d like to understand Socrata better, I recommend starting with the solutions tour, then downloading their product white paper.