They're from the government and they're here to help you. No, really. Some of the biggest collectors of data are the various governments, whether on a national, state and regional or local level. Increasingly, governments are making this data available to developers, who are using it to produce applications.
On President Barack Obama's first day in office, he issued the Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government, which instructed the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to issue an Open Government Directive and to direct executive departments and agencies to take specific actions to implement the principles of transparency, participation and collaboration.
Transparency promotes accountability by providing the public with information about what the Government is doing. Participation allows members of the public to contribute ideas and expertise so that their government can make policies with the benefit of information that is widely dispersed in society. Collaboration improves the effectiveness of Government by encouraging partnerships and cooperation within the Federal Government, across levels of government, and between the Government and private institutions.
In response, the Office of Management and Budget issued a more detailed Open Government Plan with more detailed instructions to department heads. The government also created a portal, Data.Gov, to all sorts of freely available federal datasets, which is updated on a regular basis with new datasets. The federal government also installed Vivek Kundra as the first federal CIO in the nation's history.
Kundra recently resigned, but the new CIO, former Microsoft executive and FCC managing director Steven VanRoekel, is likely to continue and even extend the open government effort. Wrote Alex Howard on the GovFresh blog:
He brought a .com mentality to the FCC, including a perspective that “everything should be an API” that caught some tech observers’ eye. He worked with an innovative new media team that established a voice for social media for the @FCC on social media where that had been none and a FCC.gov/live livestream that automatically detected what device you’d used to access it."
In general, government data on the state level tends to be less available than on either the federal or local level. This was also the finding of an open government survey by Socrata, a company that licenses infrastructure for open data initiatives, which found the following: