Out in the Open: This Man Wants to Turn Data Into Free Food (And So Much More)

  in Wired: “Let’s say your city releases a list of all trees planted on its public property. It would be a godsend—at least in theory. You could filter the data into a list of all the fruit and nut trees in the city, transfer it into an online database, and create a smartphone app that helps anyone find free food.

Such is promise of “open data”—the massive troves of public information our governments now post to the net. The hope is that, if governments share enough of this data with the world at large, hackers and entrepreneurs will find a way of putting it to good use. But although so much of this government data is now available, the revolution hasn’t exactly happened.

In far too many cases, the data just sits there on a computer server, unseen and unused. Sometimes, no one knows about the data, or no one knows what to do with it. Other times, the data is just too hard to work with. If you’re building that free food app, how do you update your database when the government releases a new version of the spreadsheet? And if you let people report corrections to the data, how do you contribute that data back to the city?

These are the sorts of problems that obsess 25-year-old software developer Max Ogden, and they’re the reason he built Dat, a new piece of open source software that seeks to restart the open data revolution. Basically, Dat is a way of synchronizing data between two or more sources, tracking any changes to that data, and handling transformations from one data format to another. The aim is a simple one: Ogden wants to make it easier for governments to share their data with a world of software developers.

That’s just the sort of thing that government agencies are looking for, says Waldo Jaquith, the director of US Open Data Institute, the non-profit that is now hosting Dat…

Git is a piece of software originally written by Linux creator Linus Torvalds. It keeps track of code changes and makes it easier to integrate code submissions from outside developers. Ogden realized what developers needed wasn’t a GitHub for data, but a Git for data. And that’s what Dat is.

Instead of CouchDB, Dat relies on a lightweight, open-source data storage system from Google called LevelDB. The rest of the software was written in JavaScript by Ogden and his growing number of collaborators, which enables them to keep things minimal and easily run the software on multiple operating systems, including Windows, Linux and Macintosh OS X….”

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