Government should be a platform to let others develop on: Tim O’Reilly

Rather than spending time and money creating various web services for citizens, governments should focus on releasing as much data as possible and letting hackers put it to use.

That was the view expressed by O’Reilly Media founder and CEO Tim O’Reilly at GTEC 2009 in Ottawa.

O’Reilly noted that by creating a development platform, Apple now has nearly 80,000 apps available for the iPhone created by third-party developers. The government, said O’Reilly, could be a similar platform.

The United States government has been leading on this idea with, providing all kinds of government data to mash-up and create a variety of applications which can be seen in the DC App Store.

While O’Reilly acknowledged that Ottawa’s Interactive Traffic Map is a good government site, he’d prefer to see stuff like this created by non-government employees.

For that, he points to the City of Vancouver, which has its own site for raw data, Open Data Catalogue.

From this data, Vancouver Garbage Reminders was created, a site to remind residents which day they need to take out their trash for garbage collection.

“We can build better citizen services without having to do it ourselves,” said O’Reilly. “You don’t have to build that application, you just have to provide the data.”

As for getting the data out to the public, O’Reilly pointed to a blog post by public policy expert Dave Eaves listing Three Laws of Open Government Data:

If it can’t be spidered or indexed, it doesn’t exist
If it isn’t available in open and machine readable format, it can’t engage
If a legal framework doesn’t allow it to be re-purposed, it doesn’t empower

With all this in mind, O’Reilly said government should “think like a platform provider.”

“You should measure success by how many things get built that are of value to citizens.”