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This week, Seattle took a giant leap toward open data and transparency when it became one of four U.S. cities to join the federal open data portal data.gov at cities.data.gov.

As reported by govtech.com, Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago and New York now have a great amount of data available for the public, such as fire and police reports, or just simply finding a good park for your kid. According to former Seattle chief technology officer Bill Schrier, who helped work on the deal before he moved to e.Republic, it is very much a “huge step forward for open data, transparency and applications.”

Why is this important? We won’t go all Bilbo Baggins on you, but here’s the gist (thanks to Schrier for helping us sort this out):

1. Open data movement and “apps challenges” were started by the CTO of the District of Columbia, which released a lot of D.C. data on its government website and challenged app developers to write applications against it. A good one, Stumble Safely, used your location to alert you to how safe your immediate surroundings were — and helped spur the next step.

2. That app was presented to the federal government, in part resulting in Obama’s “openness and transparency” executive order in 2009. That turned into data.gov. Seattle-based Socrata won the contract to host it.

3. Other cities, counties and states nationwide witnessed the awesome powers of open data, launching their own sites. They also requested that developers write apps against their data.

Bill Schrier

Here’s where it became tricky: Data for one area only works for that area. Seattle’s data won’t translate to New York, and vice versa. “This is why cities.data.gov is so important,” Schrier continues. “It is the first time we are seeing an attempt to create a data site with federated data, so apps don’t have to be written for each city and county and state.”

Or, as govtech reports, “Transparency gains by the federal government, as evidenced by sites like Usaspending.gov and Data.gov, are encouraging governments at all levels to open up data for the public good.” In other words, more transparency translating into a more informed public.

Socrata‘s role is to help organize this info and make it more readily available. As a result, similar types of data sets, like crime data and 311 calls, will be standardized from city to city, making sharing info and comparisons quite easier. Another plus is that the app developers working on these city-specific apps will be able to better adapt them to a broader marketplace.

“By taking this step of federating data from cities into one catalog, with one common API, the Socrata Open Data API (SODA), we are reducing transaction costs for developers, at least in terms of discovery,” Socrata VP of marketing Saf Rabah says. “The next step will be to develop the common schemas and build software that helps developers work with ‘normalized data’ so they can get economies of scope working in their favor. We launched a similar Data Convergence Cloud MetroChicagoData.org a few months ago.”

Dare to dream: Someday, something like One Bus Away can work everywhere.

Previously on GeekWireAttention geeks: Your government needs you (and it’s offering $75,000 for new apps)

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