ThisWeKnow.org is one of three finalists in the Sunlight Labs Apps for America contest. It’s nothing big, really, just trying to make every bit of federal data available in super-searchable Semantic Web format:

Our long-term vision for ThisWeKnow is to model the entire data.gov catalog and make it available to the public using Semantic Web standards as a large-scale online database. ThisWeKnow will provide citizens with a single destination where they can search and browse all the information the government collects. It will also provide other application developers with a powerful standards-based API for accessing the data.

Loading governmental databases into a single, flexible data store breaks down silos of information and facilitates inferences across multiple data stores.  For example, inferences can be made by combining census demographic data from the Agency of Commerce, factory information from the Environmental Protection Agency, information about employment from the Department of Labor, and so on. We can’t even begin to imagine the discoveries that will become possible after all these data are loaded into an integrated repository.

Tim Berners-Lee‘s describes a Semantic Web with data distributed across the Internet that is readable by people while simultaneously being available and manipulable by software agents. To that end, in addition to building our Web pages for browsing and searching these data, we will expose all the data in the catalog to computers as RDF that can be retrieved via the SPARQL Query Language [ThisWeKnow.org About, 2009].

ThisWeKnow.org is a good first step toward consolidating diverse data stores and providing better comprehensive pictures of communities. But it will still take many eyes and many coders crunch more data together to produce Semantic Web apps that can produce insights not currently available.

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