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Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

Searchability at the Smithsonian website

The January 7 issue of Federal Computer Week  had an article by Ari Schwartz  (deputy director of the Center for Democracy and Technology)  that summarized the findings of the  "Hiding in Plain Sight"  report that was blogged about here on FGI in December. In the article Mr. Schwartz mentions that they found that the Smithsonian Institution (among other agencies) website resources had information obscured "including many online content collections in the Smithsonian Institution Research Information System".

The Smithsonian has responded in a letter to the editor  of Federal of Computer Week:  "All of the databases in the Smithsonian Institution Research Information System (SIRIS) are site-mapped according to the international standard … SIRIS has 1,679,277 records available via the sitemaps to crawlers such as Googlebot. According to Google, 1,567,170 records from SIRIS, or 93 percent, are included in the Google index. We started working on the sitemaps in February 2007 and worked directly with Google engineers in June to enhance the accessibility and ranking of our records. We understand that the public expects to find all Smithsonian information in one system, but as stated on our home page, SIRIS contains only information from the Smithsonian’s libraries, archives and the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s research databases. The museum collections information is available through other systems described on the Smithsonian’s home page. However, efforts are under way to make one-stop searching available to the public in the future.   We continue to work hard to raise the visibility of our data to the public through multiple channels, including search engines." 

Thanks for the clarification, Smithsonian and we’re glad to hear you are responsive to the public.

Smithsonian Image Claims Challenged

Carl Malamud has challenged Smithsonian Institution restrictions on use of the images at the Smithsonian Images website. The Associated Press reported today on the action by Malamud’s Public.Resource.Org site.

Smithsonian campaign and hacker tax credit

Here’s a twofer to give you some more reading matter over the long weekend:

A friend sent me this internet campaign to shed public light on the secret Smithsonian/Showtime contract that would give Showtime a 30 year, non-competitive stranglehold on Smithsonian (i.e. public domain!) archives. Background on the story can be found at boingboing. If you want to be added as a signatory, please send email to Carl Malamud (carl@media.org) no later than Sunday, November 25, 2006.

After, I signed the letter, I was looking around the public.resource site and came across another campaign (perhaps dated but still viable!) that Carl had put together calling for a hacker tax credit! The basic idea is that open source software, because it is the driving force behind our new information culture, should be supported publically so that more growth can happen. Check out the text of the letter below that Malamud suggests you send to your Congresspeople. This campaign, as I said earlier, may be dated (he lists Vice President Al Gore as a suggested addressee), but open source software (sometimes called FLOSS) is still something for which we should all be advocating!

Pablo Picasso once said that good art is created, but great art is stolen. On the Internet, the same holds true. Good code is created, but great code is copied over and over.

The Internet was created from open source software, code that people can freely use to build new code, to run their networks, to create a new business, or to build a service that people can use.

Take for example the work of Paul Vixie, who has placed in the public domain the software that the Domain Name System runs on. This software has been used by every major Internet Service Provider and has been bundled into the operating system products of IBM, DEC, Silicon Graphics, and Sun.

Open source software created the Internet, and created the economic boom we now see in Silicon Valley. Most of the large web sites in the world run on the open source Apache web server. The $4 billion Netscape Corporation was built from the open source Mosaic. The PERL programming language was created as open source, but now fuels over $100 million in book sales for publishers like O’Reilly & Associates.

But, we are eating our seed corn. There is no systematic national effort to create open source software and it is increasingly difficult to keep this infrastructure alive. For every success story like Apache, there are dozens of projects that languish because of the lack of formal support for open source projects.

In the global village, open source software is not an alternative to commercial software, just as in our real cities public parks are not an alternative to our commercial districts. The parks make our cities thrive, and thriving cities are a good place to do business.

It is a happy accident that we have open source software, but there are simple steps that the federal government can take to provide even more fuel for the growth of our information economy. Here is a simple algorithm for a Hacker Tax Credit that could be added to the U.S. Code:

      if {
            You produce software that is in the public domain ; 

      } andif {
            That software is used by at least 1000 people ; 

      } then {
            You may deduct your development and operational costs from your gross income for tax purposes ; } 

If the U.S. Congress could compile this simple subroutine into the U.S. Code, this simple step would have a greater effect than any cuts in capital gain taxes. I urge you to consider steps that the U.S. Congress can take to insure a strategic national reserve of open source software.


Carl Malamud