The age of open and machine readable Federal data is upon us! Data.gov has gone live with a searchable data catalog that includes access to data in two ways: through the "raw" data catalog and using tools.
The raw data was expected ... XML, CSV, KML, etc. The new wrinkle is the tools section of the catalog that provides data extraction tools and widget tools from Federal Agencies. The data extraction tools allow the public to build their own datasets. So, instead of being forced to download 500GB of Census data, the Data.gov data catalog links you to the Census DataFerrett data extraction tool so that you can download only the data that you require. So Data.gov gives direct access to raw datasets but the site takes it to the next level by providing searchable access to these important data tools!
In addition to accessing datasets, the Data.gov site also helps the Administration dip its toes into the world of public interaction. The site features the ability for the public to vote on several dimensions of the datasets themselves. The voting mechanism is similar to Amazon.com's star ranking approach and allows the public to rate the datasets based on: Overall Ranking, Data Utility, Usefulness of Meta Data and Instructions, and Ease of Access. The public even has the ability to explicitly suggest additional datasets that they would like to see in the future.
Just as the site says, the first release of Data.gov "provides a limited portion of the rich variety of Federal datasets presently available." That being said, the site also adds "we invite you to actively participate in shaping the future of Data.gov"! Clearly this is just the beginning of the great things that are certain to come from Data.gov and the Administration's open government and transparency agenda!