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Finalists Chosen In Apps For America 2 Contest

kdawson posted about 5 years ago | from the you-paid-for-the-data-might-as-well-mash-it-up dept.

The Internet 64

Andurin writes "Sunlight Labs has announced three finalists for its $25,000 Apps for America 2 competition. Forty-seven apps were submitted, each relying on Data.gov and providing a useful spin on government data. This We Know compiles federal information on a local level; govpulse is a searchable version of the Federal Register; and DataMasher allows simple mashups of government data sets. Voting is now open to determine the winner in the contest."

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App suggestion. (4, Insightful)

palegray.net (1195047) | about 5 years ago | (#29195793)

Can we have an app that tells us where out tax dollars are really going, down to the dime? Thanks.

Re:App suggestion. (4, Insightful)

Trepidity (597) | about 5 years ago | (#29195921)

I'd be happy with "down to the nearest $million", myself. With all the special allocations, supplemental funding bills, temporary shifts of funds, etc., it's nearly impossible to figure out what money is going where.

WallStats: Death and Taxes (2, Interesting)

Animaether (411575) | about 5 years ago | (#29195949)

Try this...

http://wallstats.com/deathandtaxes/ [wallstats.com] - WallStats: Death and Taxes ...it doesn't get into the nitty gritty of, say, a congresscritter getting moneys - but it goes into fairly reasonable detail.

Re:WallStats: Death and Taxes (2, Informative)

Trepidity (597) | about 5 years ago | (#29196063)

According to the FAQ, that's just based on the official, once-a-year budget request. So it doesn't include supplemental or temporary allocations, like the various Iraq War supplemental funding bills, the recent Cash for Clunker supplemental funding bill, the AIG bailout bill, etc. What I'd like to see is a total for, say, fiscal year 2008, of all money spent, both on- and off-budget.

Re:WallStats: Death and Taxes (1)

dintech (998802) | about 5 years ago | (#29198169)

America 2 sounds like a nice place but I'd need to know more about it before I write apps for it.

Re:App suggestion. (1)

Jurily (900488) | about 5 years ago | (#29196015)

it's nearly impossible to figure out what money is going where.

At least we know where it comes from [brillig.com] .

Re:App suggestion. (1)

maxume (22995) | about 5 years ago | (#29196141)

It's fun to compare the U.S. national debt to the personal debt that many people blithely take on; it isn't uncommon for people to have debts amounting to 5 or 6 years of their entire income, whereas the national debt in the U.S. is still less than a single years GDP (projections for 2020 put the National debt then at about 1.25 times GDP, if I am understanding the correctly, maybe somewhat higher). Now, the government doesn't get to use the entirety of GDP to pay off its debts, but neither do most of those people get to apply their entire income to their debt. So one of the most creditworthy entities to ever exist (the U.S. government is somewhat less likely to disappear than a person is likely to randomly die, and it hasn't defaulted on much of anything yet) gets shat on for borrowing mildly (Maybe; I'd be comfortable with a government that only spent the money it had collected, except maybe in extraordinary circumstances).

Another fun, circular way to look at it is that the government hasn't borrowed too much money until no one will loan them any more money.

Re:App suggestion. (1)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | about 5 years ago | (#29196203)

It's fun to compare the U.S. national debt to the personal debt that many people blithely take on; it isn't uncommon for people to have debts amounting to 5 or 6 years of their entire income, whereas the national debt in the U.S. is still less than a single years GDP ...

Not quite a fair comparison; to make that comparison valid, the government debt should be compared to the government income, not the GDP.

Re:App suggestion. (1)

maxume (22995) | about 5 years ago | (#29196259)

Why? In theory land, the productivity of the nation is entirely available to the government (well, sort of, there are problems actually collecting it). It certainly isn't a precise comparison.

I guess it comes down to whether you consider the debt to be owed by the government or by society, the GDP is certainly available to society, it just happens to have more pressing concerns than the contracts and obligations the government has entered into.

Re:App suggestion. (1)

z-j-y (1056250) | about 5 years ago | (#29196335)

in what theory? since when Americans think they are Gov's bitches?

even if in the extreme theory that Gov is slave master, and we are his slaves, Gov still have to let us keep something before we starve or rebel. that is the cost of business for the slave master, therefore his net income should not include this part.

Re:App suggestion. (1)

Trepidity (597) | about 5 years ago | (#29196345)

The debt is owed by Americans as a people, not some abstract entity that doesn't actually exist. We borrowed money from the Chinese (and others) to fund things that we collectively voted for, and we owe it back at some point. How exactly we want to pay it back, presumably China doesn't care a lot about, but the American people owe it.

Re:App suggestion. (2, Funny)

z-j-y (1056250) | about 5 years ago | (#29196415)

correction: *some Americans* voted for it, and *some Americans* are paying for it.

it's like a group of rapists saying to the victim: *we* democratically and collectively decided to have a consensual sex, and you are responsible too!

Re:App suggestion. (1)

Trepidity (597) | about 5 years ago | (#29196487)

There's very few parts of the American political spectrum that haven't contributed significantly to it. The biggest portions of the debt were contributed by Reagan, Bush II, and Obama, under both Republican and Democratic congresses, which adds up to a pretty big portion of the American political spectrum.

I could see that argument if it was a single person who represented a minority of the population--- maybe Chileans would have a good argument for not owing Pinochet's debts. But the American debt was racked up by all major parts of the American political spectrum, with repeated confirmations every 2-4 years by the people voting those same spenders back into both legislative and executive office.

If you add together the parts of the populace who supported Reagan, GWB, and Obama, that covers a good 90%+ of Americans, so I'd say the country as a whole is pretty well responsible for its debt.

Re:App suggestion. (1)

z-j-y (1056250) | more than 4 years ago | (#29296795)

nah, it's mostly the old people. the young wasn't there in creating the system, which by sheer coincidence screws the young and benefits the old.

Re:App suggestion. (1)

maxume (22995) | about 5 years ago | (#29196349)

In the second paragraph there, where society is responsible for the actions of government. 'Gotta eat' doesn't really break down the comparison, personal debtors do that to.

Re:App suggestion. (1)

blueg3 (192743) | about 5 years ago | (#29196395)

Yes -- a fair comparison is to compare debt, deficit, or interest to tax receipts and other state income.

Re:App suggestion. (1)

maxume (22995) | about 5 years ago | (#29196421)

I don't think it is entirely clear that government is separate from the people that create it (or suffer the presence of it). It sort of sucks for the people who don't like the actions that government takes, but that seems to be the way things go.

Re:App suggestion. (1)

MrNonchalant (767683) | about 5 years ago | (#29196519)

My last-minute slap-dash entry (it didn't get picked, and no wonder) does more or less what you want: http://yournearby.com/budget/ [yournearby.com]

Re:App suggestion. (1)

Idiomatick (976696) | about 5 years ago | (#29197783)

Awesome ap! Keep working on it this definately could be amazing with better visuals... I'm thinking the death and taxes graph to the extreme. Maybe Add some search able features and such..

Re:App suggestion. (1)

mybecq (131456) | about 5 years ago | (#29196061)

That's exactly what I suggest in the Online Government Open Accountability Ledger [google.com] initiative. This would track all dollars going in and out of govt coffers, at all levels of govt.

Re:App suggestion. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29196143)

Kinda disingenuous question coming from a former submariner, don't ya think? [wikipedia.org]
 
captcha: armament

Re:App suggestion. (1)

maxume (22995) | about 5 years ago | (#29196175)

I bet you drive or ride on roads all the time.

Re:App suggestion. (1)

fm6 (162816) | about 5 years ago | (#29196327)

What good would it do you? GWB was able to pretend that the Iraq war wasn't costing the U.S. anything. And he wasn't hiding the information, he was just leaving it out of the budget. Everybody was afraid to call him on it lest they look unpatriotic. Secrecy is not the problem.

Re:App suggestion. (1)

palegray.net (1195047) | about 5 years ago | (#29196391)

Secrecy is absolutely the problem. Leaving things out of the budget is one thing, but real dollars get spent. I want to be able to analyze every line item expenditure at every level of government.

Re:App suggestion. (1)

fm6 (162816) | about 5 years ago | (#29197775)

So, you're not interested in policies On priorities. You just want the ability to flame a civil servant every time they make a purchase you don't approve of, no matter how small. ("That brand of paper clips is too expensive!") Oh yeah, that's certainly going to make things more efficient.

Re:App suggestion. (1)

palegray.net (1195047) | about 5 years ago | (#29201787)

Actually, you've got that completely backward. I care a lot of less about expensive paperclips and a lot more about comparing/contrasting "official" spending reports with the actual places money gets diverted to. As in "by the hundreds of millions" diverted.

Re:App suggestion. (1)

fm6 (162816) | about 5 years ago | (#29205383)

Then why do you need to know how every dollar is spent? If a project costs, say, $10 Million and you think a lot of that was wasted, having access to small expenses won't help you make your case.

Re:App suggestion. (1)

palegray.net (1195047) | about 5 years ago | (#29206113)

I want access to all expenses. I don't care how large or small they are. I want to be able to hold every responsible party in the entire chain accountable for spending according to what has been publicly agreed upon. I fail to understand how this is difficult for you to grasp.

Re:App suggestion. (1)

fm6 (162816) | about 5 years ago | (#29208357)

Now you're being childish. Of course I grasp that. What I can't get you to explain is what you'd do with the information once you had it.

Re:App suggestion. (1)

palegray.net (1195047) | about 5 years ago | (#29208625)

I think we're getting somewhere now. I'd like answers from our elected officials on a couple of different fronts: (1) justification of expenses that the public wasn't fully informed of, or grossly overran their stated budgetary constraints, and (2) an explanation for why the public is outright deceived in cases where funds don't end up anywhere near their stated destination.

Public officials, from the Senate down to the local level, can't be held responsible for these issues if there isn't a clear and indisputable means of accessing and auditing all the data. I want people held responsible.

Re:App suggestion. (1)

fm6 (162816) | about 5 years ago | (#29209919)

Which justifies getting a reasonable breakdown of how they spend your money. But you want an accounting down to the individual dollar! So we're back to the paper clips.

Re:App suggestion. (1)

palegray.net (1195047) | about 5 years ago | (#29210067)

I suppose I want a complete picture to completely eliminate any means of obscuring spending. Understand, I'm not inclined to nitpick over paperclips; having all the data doesn't mean I'd automatically start yelling at some low-level government office purchasing agent.

I believe this really comes down to a basic need for complete transparency in government spending, so the People as a whole can make educated decisions and hold their elected officials (regardless of the level) responsible for decisions that involve our tax dollars. There is no justification for a lack of transparency with public funds.

Re:App suggestion. (1)

fm6 (162816) | about 5 years ago | (#29210779)

I suppose I want a complete picture to completely eliminate any means of obscuring spending.

The problem is your definition of "complete". When you define it as every expenditure, no matter how small, you actually make it easier for them to slip pork and waste past you. Recall the expression about forests and trees.

Ever catch the British TV comedy "Yes Minister"? It's about a politician tasked to eliminate waste and bureaucracy in a government department and his fights with the bureaucrats who do everything they can to thwart him. When they want to hide something from him, they don't refuse him access to relevant documents, they snow him with a blizzard of information so the one fact he wants is well hidden.

I write technical documents for a living. One thing I learned early on is that communication is as much about abstraction as about detail. Unfortunately, many of my colleagues never figure that out!

Re:App suggestion. (1)

palegray.net (1195047) | about 5 years ago | (#29211279)

This is exactly why I want the data is machine-readable form, so it can be analyzed programmatically.

Re:App suggestion. (1)

fm6 (162816) | about 5 years ago | (#29212851)

Then you're talking almost the direct opposite of an iphone app. You want a data stream, a very fat pipe to receive it on (we're talking billions of records!) and some serious hardware to crunch the numbers.

Not cheap. Maybe you can get a government grant...

Re:App suggestion. (1)

palegray.net (1195047) | about 5 years ago | (#29237383)

Funny you should mention fat pipes and lots of hardware; I happen to work for a company where I could easily secure such resources for a fun project like this. I think I'll skip the government grant (nice, btw) and keep it private sector ;).

Re:App suggestion. (1)

noidentity (188756) | about 5 years ago | (#29197497)

Don't forget where the hidden tax (inflation) sends money as well. That one's nice because it'll take value even from money you have stuffed in a mattress. Hackers stealing one cent from every account can't match monetary expansion in this regard (otherwise called counterfeiting).

Re:App suggestion. (1)

Trepidity (597) | about 5 years ago | (#29197525)

That one I see mainly as a good thing--- smallish levels of inflation are felt mainly on the long term, so mainly serve to erode attempts to maintain long-lived, large fortunes, while helps keep the United States from sprouting a hereditary nobility.

Re:App suggestion. (1)

Marcika (1003625) | about 5 years ago | (#29198855)

That one I see mainly as a good thing--- smallish levels of inflation are felt mainly on the long term, so mainly serve to erode attempts to maintain long-lived, large fortunes, while helps keep the United States from sprouting a hereditary nobility.

I can guarantee you that no long-lived, large fortunes are held in cash. They are held largely in land, real estate and stocks -- all of which keep step with inflation. The institutions that keep long-lived fortunes in fixed income instruments (and thus lose out to inflation) are pension funds, insurers and central banks, i.e. either stewards of the small peoples' money or public sector institutions.

Since anyone with a large fortune can pay people who know how to invest their money in any environment, the only way to avoid a hereditary oligarchy is to tax the heirs of large fortunes for the income that the inheritance represents (and to close offshore avoidance loopholes, which is the hard part).

Initial thoughts on the three (4, Insightful)

Improv (2467) | about 5 years ago | (#29195891)

I like the layout of ThisWeKnow, and it's probably the application that I can most imagine my mother using. DataMasher is a bit more cryptic, but much more powerful - I'm worried about people drawing the wrong implications from the simple analyses, but it's interesting in a "data mining, damn the statistics and causality" kind of way. Govpulse isn't really interesting to me.

I'd have a tough time chosing between ThisWeKnow and DataMasher, and I really hope both stick around after the award thing is over.

Re:Initial thoughts on the three (2, Informative)

Zoop (59907) | about 5 years ago | (#29196521)

DataMasher is a bit more cryptic, but much more powerful - I'm worried about people drawing the wrong implications from the simple analyses, but it's interesting in a "data mining, damn the statistics and causality" kind of way. [snip] I'd have a tough time chosing between ThisWeKnow and DataMasher, and I really hope both stick around after the award thing is over.

Thanks! And yes, Datamasher, for one, will be here after the contest is long gone.

We were concerned about appearing statistically valid when we knew very well it wouldn't be in most cases, so we chose to encourage discovery and discussion over rigor. We have ideas of things we'd like to do for it, but it was literally built over a few weekends after hours, limiting what we could do by the contest deadline.

The cool thing about the contest is that all the applications are open source, so if a contestant can't maintain an application you like, the code will still be available for anybody who wants to perpetuate it. I'd encourage people not only to check out and vote on the finalists, but also check out the other entries that didn't make the final round--there were some good ideas in there, too.

Re:Initial thoughts on the three (1)

stoshu (702308) | about 5 years ago | (#29199793)

I found DataMasher's "Analyze This!" link in the right-hand frame to be most helpful.

Re:Initial thoughts on the three (1)

2obvious4u (871996) | about 5 years ago | (#29202433)

This we know states that Atlanta has 0 violent crimes [thisweknow.org] . It is so wrong, how can it even be useful?

Re:Initial thoughts on the three (1)

Improv (2467) | about 5 years ago | (#29202647)

But I read it on the internet! It must be true!

More seriously, I wonder if this is because they report 0 when they lack data on something, or if they actually got a zero from some report.

Lies, Damned Lies, and DataMasher (1)

internic (453511) | about 5 years ago | (#29202625)

I think the motivation behind DataMasher is to give people a tool to visualize and understand information about the country, and that's a great goal. But I feel pretty certain that in practice DataMasher would end up mostly generating a lot of bad information. The site as it exists now seems to encourage you to think about issues in a really simplistic way (with a simple arithmetic combination of two numbers on a state by state basis) that's going to mislead more often than inform. The devil is always in the spurious correlations, and DataMasher just doesn't give you ability to get at that sort of thing (nor do most people have the understanding of statistics anyway).

Basically, I looked at the highest rated mashups, and it just seems like a series of cautionary tales in how this could lead you astray. On the one hand you have seemingly meaningless combinations, like the product of gun ownership and teen pregnancy. On the other hand you have a comparison of (SAT score)/($ spent per student): People seem to be drawing conclusions about which states are "doing it right", when the results are likely explainable by diminishing returns on spending (once you've spent enough you don't get much more by spending more) and other social conditions (spending is hardly the only thing that affects student performance). Not to mention the fact there's no clue of how much of that money is spent on teachers vs. facilities vs. administration.

Statistics are extremely useful in determining public policy, but only if used carefully. There's already so much bad use of statistics in our public policy debates, and DataMasher seems perfectly designed (unintentionally, I'm sure) to exacerbate the problem.

Re:Lies, Damned Lies, and DataMasher (1)

Improv (2467) | about 5 years ago | (#29202735)

That's entirely fair, but I think we're better off seeing sites that give us the raw data and let us make baby steps at the problem. It's better to get this stuff out in the open so we can start to talk about what constitutes good and bad data-based reasoning, so we can make mistakes and learn how to do it right, than to let FoxNews (and a few other no-journalistic-standards organisations) blindside us with mistakes we don't need to handle.

Regarding that particular SAT score and per-student-spending analysis, I bet it could create a lot of interesting discussion.

Re:Lies, Damned Lies, and DataMasher (1)

internic (453511) | about 5 years ago | (#29203051)

Oh yeah, I'm all for getting the data out there in a form that can easily be analyzed, which I think is essentially what Data.gov is about. The problem is that I think this tool will give people the illusion they understand when, in fact, they don't understand at all. And it doesn't provide the tools to reach a correct understanding.

For something like DataMasher to be very useful, it would have to provide more sophisticated tools, and those tools would have to be paired with some sort of resources that teach people about things like spurious effects and how to control for them. That's a tool that seems hard to build and I'm not sure there's much of an audience for it.

I imagine that a lot of good statistical analysis done by experts is already out there. What I'd imagine is needed is not a tool for generating it but a way to finding it and for separating good from bad.

Re:Lies, Damned Lies, and DataMasher (1)

Improv (2467) | about 5 years ago | (#29202781)

Supplemental: the particular analysis you reference is here [datamasher.org] , and by odd coincidence I commented on it a few days ago.

Can we vote for a voting method? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29195911)

Even if Democrats and Republicans will never gracefully allow it in regular elections, competitions like this should offer preferential ballots with a Condorcet-compliant method of determining the winner.

Why rely on political parties (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29196743)

As long as we are stuck in the mentality of "those bosses in charge will never let us peons get away with it" we are doomed to servitude. Do you really want that, or are you ready to open source [metagovernment.org] human governance?

Another app suggestion... (2, Interesting)

Darkness404 (1287218) | about 5 years ago | (#29195931)

What would be a nice app to have (and would probably be simple to build) would be an app that would measure taxes vs benefits and compare it to current and projected birthrates and project into the future along with certain "disasters" that you could add. So you could find out if a certain bill would be sustainable. For example, you could put in data for, say, state run healthcare, birthrates, tax dollars, etc. and figure out if it would end up paying for itself. We don't need the public to be scammed into another version of social security that is not sustainable without unreasonable conditions such as an increasing birthrate (globally birth rates are down for most people, yes, the population keeps growing but the birthrate decreases leaving with more "useless" people than working people) and find out if it would require even more tax dollars.

Re:Another app suggestion... (1)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | about 5 years ago | (#29196077)

Since demographic and economic growth rates are exponential functions of the difference between variables that are very close in magnitude, projections like this are insanely sensitive to assumptions. Historically, if you look at projections done using the simple first-derivative methods you suggest, they have been wildly inaccurate.

Re:Another app suggestion... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29209227)

"...the population keeps growing but the birthrate decreases leaving with more "useless" people than working people) and find out if it would require even more tax dollars."

Who is more useless? The babies or the adults?

Data masher is for journalists hard up for a headl (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29196133)

Data masher looks to be a great place where journalists can go when there are no real headlines to put on the news. Just mash anything together, toss on a knee-jerking headline and viola, instant news story.

Re:Data masher is for journalists hard up for a he (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29196367)

KDawson?

America 2? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29196177)

So we're just giving up and rebooting already? I figured we had at least another 20 years.

Three Cheers for data.gov (0)

BlueBoxSW.com (745855) | about 5 years ago | (#29196243)

I think this is great, and I'm excited to see people build and promote sites based on it.

That is all.

Summary (1)

Tokerat (150341) | about 5 years ago | (#29196351)

Forty-seven apps were submitted, each relying on Data.gov and providing a useful spin on government data.

Just what government data needs - more spin.

Re:Summary (1)

Andurin (653272) | about 5 years ago | (#29200013)

A poor word choice on my part.

Datamasher seems... problematic (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29196463)

And I don't mean the whole "rule of the mob of amateur statisticians" part. Perhaps it's a partial slashdot effect, but it seems the mashups have been rolled back to around 25 mins ago. All the ones I've seen created in the last few minutes have vanished, including my own.

Okay, seems I can still create mashups and they appear. Perhaps they had to purge an influx of PONIES or some such thing.

Darn (1)

djupedal (584558) | about 5 years ago | (#29197303)

And I thought MS had learned their lesson about re-writing history....

Can they put boobs on the pope?

bogus data? (1)

fl!ptop (902193) | about 5 years ago | (#29200371)

i searched thisweknow.org on my zip code and it returned a bunch of crimes that occurred outside my zip code. it also reported a county population that's more than 10x what it actually is.

i call shenanigans.

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