Give the Public Access to Public Records

    by JD Lasica
    May 29, 2008


    I’m on an open API kick here at IdeaLab, so here’s the second of three entries on the potential of application programming interface for news organizations. (I’ll post a final video interview on Monday.)

    This is a way to give the public true access to public records. Oddly, that rarely happens now, with media organizations playing gatekeeper and releasing stories through the editorial process — but not the raw data itself.


    In this 8-minute video interview I conducted yesterday at the NetSquared conference — notice the venue: Cisco, not a media company — founder-CEO Michael Schnuerle discusses Louisville-based YourMapper.com, a young startup that hopes to make a business in part by helping the public gain public access to public records. The company has already licensed its mapping technology to at least one news publication.

    Central to YourMapper’s plan is an open API, which can prove incredibly powerful when paired with the proper datasets. Schneurle even waged a months-long battle with Kentucky officials wielding only the Freedom of Information Act before the state attorney general came down on his side.

    News organizations ought to get behind this effort by releasing their own open API to public records in their communities. Now, here’s the important twist: Instead of just making the data available internally, for its staff to analyze and reinterpret, news publications ought to bring readers and users into such efforts.


    As I said in Tuesday’s post, it’s about enlisting users in a collaborative effort to tap into rich sources of information about what’s happening in your reader’s communities.

    Call it data jockey crowdsourcing. I’ll wager we’ll see scores of such efforts in the coming years.

    Tagged: APIs freedom of information public access public records

    One response to “Give the Public Access to Public Records”

    1. Thanks for raising an important issue JD. I’m wondering whether you have insights about localities that have really good policy around open government data? Anything interesting in the works?

      YourMapper looks like a neat initiative, though there isn’t much (anything, as far as I can tell?) there yet. EveryBlock is working on a similar principal and I know they’ve had to fight to get a hold of data.

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