Open for Whom? An Overview of Data.Gov File Formats
14 Pages Posted: 28 Apr 2016
Date Written: April 2016
Public sector organizations have made considerable investments in data catalogs yet we have few tools to evaluate open government data implementations. While counting the increasing number of available files is one evaluative approach, we argue that quantifying file formats may best anticipate future activity. This study suggests that file formats serve as a proxy for user ability and provide insight into how government organizations imagine their data audience. The file formats available in the US federal data catalog, contained primarily PDF and HTML formats, followed by complex geo-spatial, linked, and XML semi-structured formats. These formats reveal that government organizations try to satisfy both the average user, with simple accessible formats, and the sophisticated data consumer, with structured machine-readable formats. The file formats available in the federal data catalog inform the English literate public more than the data literate who want machine-readable information. The findings raise questions about who is the audience for open government data. A broader conversation is needed about the goals of the next iteration of open data policy.
Keywords: data.gov, access, file format, standards, open data, information policy
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