5 Government datasets for building web apps

2012-08-08 12:04:54 -0400

Recently, I've gotten interested in using some open government data to build useful web applications. There has been a bit of work in this space, with many Federal agencies sponsoring app contests for developers to create products that show off the agencies' datasets. Challenge.gov</a> is the central listing of these app contests; take a look if you are interested in seeing what kind of challenges are open for entries. I've had a bit of experience working with government data and here's some of the most interesting datasets that I've found so far.

U.S. Census TIGER</a></h3>
This is the mother of all mapping datasets in the U.S. It contains most roads, populated places, and administrative boundaries (for counties and states). There is also a ton of demographic data available subset by geographic location. These are huge datasets, and would need specialized GIS knowledge to do much with. The OpenStreetMap project has imported most of the roads and administrative boundary data, making the U.S. portion of their map pretty detailed. One issue with TIGER data is that many of the roads in the dataset no longer exist. This is especially true in areas that have lost population, like abandoned towns or areas converted to national parks.

Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED)</a></h3>
Almost any conceivable economic indicator for the U.S., going back as far as government data exists. Want to know the USD/GBP exchange rate in 1974? Got it. CPI for 1951? No problem. There are also a lot of useful graphing tools built into the site and a nice REST API for accessing the data from web services.

NOAA Weather Radars</a></h3>
Historical RADARs back to the 1990s and near real-time radar images (10 minute or so delay). This website also has satellite images back to the 1970s. I'm sure there is some kind of really cool big data project you could create with these. Maybe show the historical likelihood of rain in a particular location on a particular day of the year, or check historical satellite images to determine when is the best change for a sunny day.

Securities and Exchange Commission EDGAR</a></h3>
Near real-time display of all filings for publicly-traded companies in the U.S. New share issuance,  corporate governance changes, and quarterly reports are all there.

USGS Stream Flow</a></h3>
I'm mostly putting this on here because I check it frequently for kayaking. This site has near real-time data on the flow and temperature of many rivers in the U.S. The data comes from gauging stations operated by USGS.