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Won’t Get Fooled Again: Day 22

The thing that strikes me as I look through the hundreds of pages of the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act” is simply this — how is any normal human being going to deal with this mishmash of legalese, policy descriptions, and billions upon billions of dollars in budget figures?

When we speak of the power of “raw data” the positive and pragmatic benefit of government information distribution rests primarily on the ability of people to do something with it. This action can not be determined by the power’s distribution mechanism (much in the same way ComEd here in Illinois can’t tell me which devices in my home I can and can not turn on — they just charge me for the overall electricity I use.) Traditional libraries (paper and print universe) functioned much the same way — people picked and chose information or media depending on what their particular needs might be. Librarians may intervene by limiting who can use the services, how many items can be used, or help users sort out what they might want to use.

The power of text clouding, or the ability to pull out different stands of information from a large and complicated information object — such as what ProPublica did for the stimulus bill — moves the power relationship from one of passive distribution dominated by personal choices to passive distribution influenced by deliberative contextualizing by a third party. In other words, this third party takes the “raw data” and refines it into another kind of information by-product that might be more significant or meaningful to users. In fact, I would argue many traditional government information sources (i.e. Public Papers of the Presidents, congressional committee reports, Foreign Relations of the United States, Federal Register, or the Code of Federal Regulations) are of this type. What the web offers is the opportunity to make and distribute a wider variety of public information by-products.

See you Day 23.

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