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San Francisco is heaping raw government data onto the web in the hopes developers build iPhone apps for folks to complain about trees blocking their sidewalk and to Google restaurant health-code violations.

The Bay city's freshly conjured website DataSF.org describes itself as a "central clearinghouse for datasets" published by the city and county of San Francisco and available to the public.

"The goal is to improve access to city data through open machine-readable formats," the website states. That data can then theoretically be turned into "new innovative apps", which make the data easily available to the public rather than rely on a person wandering into the local planning office to discover if their house is being demolished to make way for a new bypass.

The website is still in beta with its number of datasets yet increasing, but it already contains a healthy library of datasets ranging from building permits to election campaign finance data.

DataSF encourages users to recommend future datasets to be made available on the website, which goes to a popular vote. The current leader is for the site to serve up Tow-away zoning data.

San Francisco's sentiments are echoed by many local governments and private citizen alike attempting to make public data more open. For example, the UK developer group ReWired State has been uploading similar government databases and has several projects running.

Open access to data's been a growing trend in government circles, thanks to the politics of who controls information. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts typified the move in 2005 when it said official documents must use the open document format (ODF), as Microsoft's Word would lock documents into a format owned by a single company. This was before Microsoft's Office Open XML (OOXML) formats.

Massachusetts went on to reverse the decision following lobbying from Microsoft and local political pressure, but other national and local governments in the US and world wide have been moving in the direction of using open formats. ®

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