If you were going to design a bureacracy’s policies related to the free and public dissemination of information on the web, you could probably do no better than the U.S. National Weather Service.
They simply make reams and reams of information available for free. And they support this with reams and reams of supporting materials, like databases and GIS files.
Case in point: from this page on their website you can obtain RSS and CAP feeds of weather alerts for every U.S. state, or for the entire country.
That’s a good idea, a good use of open standards, and they’ve done a good job of it.
But it gets better: yesterday, in experimenting with the CAP feeds, I found a small technical problem (geeknote: they were using non-encoded greater and less than signs in their XML text). So I sent them a note. This morning, less than 18 hours later, I received a note back: problem fixed.
That’s good customer service, and it demonstrates care and concern for data that is sometimes sadly lacking elsewhere.
Compared to the National Weather Service, our own Environment Canada is a veritable locked castle of data. While they have experimented with XML forecasts (an experiment that appears, sadly, to have ended), they regard their data (as does most of the federal bureaucracy here in Canada) as a sort of digital crown jewels. They could learn a lot from their peers in the U.S.
Canada follows the wonderful European cost-recovery model. Taxpayers dollars are used to generate the data in the first place (for most datasets).
Then user-fees recover a small portion of the costs for running the bureacracy. The lack of open access to data being created by government in turn leads to disadvantages for its citizens because companies are at a distinct disadvantage compared with those operating in similar jurisdictions to the south.
It’s slowly changing but to the detriment of many companies, academic-studies, and non-profit organizations. I remember hearing a person from the Southeast Environmental Association, publicly ripping at gov’t data policies a few years back. This was particularly enlightening and brightened up a boring series of lectures.
I’m also in complete agreement with you — NWS (and NOAA as a whole), along with the US Geological Survey are role models for government transparency.
I would also point you toward the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colarado. A veritable fountain of interesting weather information dispersed, in part, by my good friend Bob Henson.
Bob is the perfect person to be responsible for communications at the Center. He is also the author of the
Rough Guide to the Weather, which I would certainly have in my glove box if I planned to drive around the world, say.
In fact, it’s just fascinating period.