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A new portal will collect open streams from different cities, making for easier comparisons.

The federal government wants your city's data.

A new open data portal on data.gov creates a shared platform where American cities can make all of their streams available in one place. Four cities – New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Seattle – have already done so.

The new clearinghouse features thousands of openly accessible data streams, including information on building permits filed in these cities, a regularly updated feed of Seattle Fire Department 911 dispatches, budget documents and tons of maps of things like parks, film locations and building footprints.

Chicago has 1,826 data feeds on the site, New York has 1,087, Seattle has 711, and San Francisco has 310. The federal government has made 6,560 of their own available.

It's part of an effort to democratize the public data streams that governments collect, putting them into the hands of citizens. More pointedly, these open data efforts are aimed at civic-minded computer programmers who might be interested in turning these raw data streams into useful websites or mobile applications.

New York, for example, has run a series of competitions aimed at encouraging developers to turn these open data streams into useful applications. The latest batch of winning projects include a mobile subway trip planning tool, a pre-kindergarten and elementary school search tool, and an educational application that highlights Brooklyn's city-owned vacant lots and potential reuse ideas.

The federal government has had its own data available through its online portal for the past few years, and seems to be actively encouraging cities to follow course. But, at the local level, the open data movement hasn't taken off as widely as some in the community may have hoped. Only 15 city or county governments currently have open data websites. Having a federal-level project focused on city data may help convince more cities to get on the burgeoning open data bandwagon.

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