Why Aren’t More People Excited About Government Data Stories?

Government data as a platform for innovation is something I find exciting. Unfortunately, every time we write about it at ReadWriteWeb, very few people read our articles. Consumer data from private companies, be it Facebook, Twitter or Foursquare, for example, finds far more interested readers.

Both have a few things in common: they are stories about data that you and I produce being leveraged by independent developers to build new services and ways to make use of that data. I love EveryBlock and the way it shows me the 911 calls, restaurant reviews and news stories about the area I live in. It uses mostly government data. I really liked the story I wrote about it (“The Day Everyblock Came to Town“) but it got far fewer pageviews than the equally local story Boom! Tweets & Maps Swarm to Pinpoint a Mysterious Explosion.

Maybe that’s because it was about an explosion, and maybe because it indicated some fulfillment of the promise of data exploited. But I think it’s in part because it’s about Twitter data instead of about public data in the traditional sense of the word. Readers just don’t find government data very interesting. It’s a part of a larger problem I think: people don’t care about nonprofit or social good stories either. Far, far fewer people read stories about human rights, watchdog organizations, etc. than they do the big corporate market leaders online. We cover social good stuff anyway, because it’s important, but we always recognize that those stories are going to perform poorly in terms of readership.


I’d Like to Stop Writing Mediocre Blog Posts

Nate Silver, author of the political stats blog FiveThirtyEight, is now writing for the New York Times. That’s very cool. It’s an inspiration to try and write better blog posts and fewer mediocre ones. ReadWriteWeb is syndicated by the NYT, but that’s different. You’ve got to be pretty consistently awesome, I’m guessing, for the Times to say “hey, come put your blog on our site.” That level of consistent awesomeness is an inspiration, for any blogger, anywhere. I feel a long, long way from so consistently awesome right now. I’d sure love to grow as an author to feel like I wrote fewer mediocre blog posts than I do today.

One step I’d like to take is to learn to stop before publishing and ask myself: how could this post be better in a big way? What fundamental insight can my noggin’ churn up with just five more minutes of slowing down from the perpetual mad dash of blogging? Publishing immediately is hard wired in my brain now, though, and it’s going to be easier said than done to change that habit.

Consulting on the Basics – Still a Huge Opportunity

I spent a fast-paced, heavy-hitting hour on the phone today with a consulting client and it was so much fun! I introduced them to the basics about effective blog reading, blog writing, RSS, OPML, Custom Search Engines and using Twitter effectively for marketing and business development. It was intense! The client, who is a recently acquired and very technical B2B service provider, said it was immediately valuable and much appreciated.

I forget sometimes how many people have yet to learn the beauty and powerful value of personalized content syndication and related technologies. I could probably spend all day, every day, getting people excited about it, if I didn’t have an awesome day job. As it is, I do one hour-long phone consultation each week. (Info) To be honest, I’ve got that much time allotted but I’m not filling each week’s hour up. I’d like to though, because I love doing consulting work.

My advice for anyone out there reading who is also jazzed about this stuff? Don’t forget how much opportunity there still is to teach people how to really effectively leverage the basics. It might not feel that way to many of us, but these are still very early days in the history of social web technologies.

Techonomy Resources in the Works

It’s midnight and I’m in Lake Tahoe, ready to cover the first Techonomy conference about using technology to solve the world’s big problems. There’s an incredible group of people participating. I’ll be covering it along with a small group of others on the Techonomy site and on ReadWriteWeb. In preparation for the event, I put together a couple of resources for my own reporting that I thought you might enjoy it too.

A Twitter list of Techonomy participants – There are 250 people listed on the site as participants and this list includes 115 of them that I (with some help from Mechanical Turk) could find on Twitter. It should be a real good place to keep track of the conference discussion and get to know some really interesting people for the future. Are you attending the event but not on that list? Let me know.

Related: A smaller list of 27 women I could identify as Techonomy participants. Just to make sure dudes don’t drown out women, as we are apt to do. These are some very powerful women attending the event, but I thought it might be good anyway. And I’ve got some other ideas in mind for that list in the future.

A Custom Search Engine of the websites associated with the event’s participants. I’ve bookmarked that link to enrich my coverage of what’s said at the event itself. If you hear about something coming out of Techonomy that you’d like to learn more about, searching inside the archives of the websites that conference participants are associated with is a good way to do it. This engine has more than 180 sites indexed, though I’m thinking of making a second version that doesn’t include big, prolific news sites so that you could search inside the websites of other organizations present more easily. Update: Here’s that link – Techonomy No News.

Let me know what you think, I’ll be shining these up over the next half day or so and then use and probably write about them elsewhere. These are the kinds of resources I love to create though, and I’ve got some more in mind. I believe they are super useful, but I suppose the proof will be in the pudding over the next few days.