By David Peterson

Obama’s Groundbreaking use of the Semantic Web

By David Peterson

In a revolutionary move, Obama’s administration is set to utilise next generation web technologies to bring an unprecedented level of transparency to government. In this case it will shed light on how the roughly US $800 billion dollar economic stimulus will be spent. The recently launched website (powered by nothing other then Drupal) brought with it the promise that citizens would be able to view where the money was going and how it was going to be spent.

To enable the citizen masher to do their wizardry, the administration will be opening up a veritable candy store of goodies: Semantic Web, RDF, Linked Data, SPARQL, RDFa, SIOC, ATOM, RESTful APIs, JSON, Widgets, Wikis, XForms, P2P Networks. Wow. They only forgot the lions and tigers and bears oh my… This is an unbelievable stack of technology. I didn’t think the government even knew what an RSS feed was :)

Linked Data

George Thomas, from the U.S. government website, presented some of the details at a talk earlier this month at Transparency Camp. He talked about the moves that the government is taking and the importance of the above technology stack to make that happen.



About 2 months ago I wrote about President Obama’s usage of RDFa on While that was admittedly about the size of a grain of sand this is like discovering a new planet. And that planet is within walking distance.

Gone are the days of Bush and back door deals and under-the-table money exchanges (Halliburton anyone?). Now every single penny will be watchable, trackable and clickable. But with over US $800 billion being spent there is a lot of pennies to track. What is the most effective way to allow this to happen?


Soon every citizen activist will have at their disposal intelligent data on everything related to the money trail and this will be combined with the best of Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 mashup tools. Imagine the possibilities… Just look at what Adrian Holovaty did with ChicagoCrime to get an idea of what can be done when data is combined in unique ways.


I am excited! This is truly a remarkable and historic move. One of radical transparency the likes of which has not been seen in the US or any other country for that matter. The standard is now set. Come on Australia! and the rest of you countries… Open up your books and let’s see where the chips really fall.

I had almost titled this post “Show me the money!!!” with a lovely photo of Tom Cruise. Well, that title is still very spot on. Or maybe… “Show me the money…. trail!”.

Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise

  • Eric

    You just lost a subscriber and faithful customer. Hope the lame and uninformed political commentary was worth it.

  • Melanie

    Now the next question will be: “How did they get the money to do that?”

  • Bob Carologees

    transparency isnt exactly their strong point though, is it?

  • Bob Carologees

    i.e. the two $2 trillion dollars that have dissapeared into a black hole recently. i wonder if the web site will also show all the US bail out money going overseas to Europe and China?

    Anyway, don’t let facts get in the way of a good story.

  • israelisassi

    I thought he was elected to be the president, but nope.. not interested in that job…

  • Tarh

    Both Obama and this new website are absolutely terrible; they’re doing nothing to prove that Abraham Lincoln was responsible for 9/11, even though we all know it’s true! </sarcasm>
    The blog authors deserve better than this; hide Sitepoint blog comments.

  • mathieuf

    I am glad to see this article and the openness that is coming with Obama.

    Now Mr. Peterson, for more depth, I suggest discussing what can still be hidden. New technologies are great, but obfuscation can still occur, and what can we do to help Obama open this government and keep it open?

    The precedent is being set, and it will be harder for those following to hide (I hope). As citizens, we need to continually watch and work for this openness. We let Bush get much too far with hiding the facts and working without authority. Let’s not do it again. Let’s keep demanding more openness, more access to real information.

  • Morgan

    Not sure where transparency on an already passed bill matters that much, I would certainly not call it ‘groundbreaking’. Groundbreaking would be if they actually read it before it was passed.

    “Now every single penny will be watchable, trackable and clickable.” If you believe this you are, sincerely, deluded.

  • Pingback: démocratie 2.0 : crowdsourcing au secours de la politique | Alexandre Plennevaux()

  • Anonymous

    From the FAQ:

    Q: Is the spending data on available in a format (like XML) that developers can use to create mashups and gadgets?
    A: Not at this time. But, as new systems are developed to capture the allocations and expenditures under the Act, we plan to make that data available in exportable form. (Back to Top)

    Riiiight ….

  • Cloudie

    Do you have a link to the slides source David?

  • Cloudie
  • Bob Carologees

    There is no “openess” coming with Obama. This project is fantastic from a web point of view but is merely a façade. I’m just pointing out the ignorance of saying “come on Australia let’s be more like the US” as if they are a shining beacon of transparency and honesty.

    Search “obama” in youtube and look at the second or third result. Obama has lied about almost everything, the facts are there if you bother to look.

  • finder

    Could’ve provided a link to the original presentation instead of making me go look for it.

  • pete

    bailout money going to europe and China? clearly the commenter hasn’t a clue about the reality of the situation. The US is in hock to China, not the other way round. Let’s hope they don’t decide to foreclose on you! Seems like Marxism trumps capitalism is too much for some folk to bear!

  • @Bob Carologees – Anyway, don’t let facts get in the way of a good story.

    Facts? Please send yours. In the meantime the to-be-released data will speak for itself. If there are holes and inconsistencies at least *WE* will be able to see them.

    @Tarh – <sarcasm> … </sarcasm>


    @mathieuf The precedent is being set, and it will be harder for those following to hide (I hope). As citizens, we need to continually watch and work for this openness. We

    This is exactly my hope. Now we as citizens will better be able to monitor and keep government accountable.

    Anonymous – Riiiight ….

    As the blog says [snip] Obama’s administration is set to utilise next generation [/snip].

    This is *coming*. It is not yet ready, there is a lot of work that needs to be done. The important thing is that they are *doing* the work.

    @Bob Carologees – … This project is fantastic from a web point of view but is merely a façade …

    Okay. Fine. But my article is not about politics or who is right or wrong. It is about data being released in an incredibly open format ready to be mashed up. Now *we* can prod, push, pull, do whatever we want to the data. If it stinks then we have something to point to and demand answers.

    Right now we don’t have this sort of access so it is a bit of a moot point…

  • Chris

    Bob this isn’t your time to argue Obama policies save that for Fox News or CNN. How about talking about the technology they are using to help improve the way our government runs with the help of web development.

  • Pingback: links for 2009-03-19 | This Inspires Me()

  • Pingback: Obama’s Groundbreaking use of the Semantic Web | DigitalTube()

  • israelisassi

    I don’t believe that technology of any kind will do anything to make factual information be available to the public. This website is and will be nothing more than marketing material. If I say that 3 dogs crossed the street at 8am this morning, how many people will actually verify that it happened?

    On a semi-side note, I don’t think implementing a bunch of technology is necessarily a good thing when you do it just so you can say that you are using the latest and greatest technology. It just means you’re pandering to a certain audience and that you can spend a bunch of money.

  • Bob Carologees

    Obama’s council is using the web extremely intelligently, if you want to see another fine example of them using the web for the “good of the people”, check out This is going to be their platform for implementing “youth bridges” and enforcing compulsory national service for all people under the age of 25. To paraphrase Noam Chomsky, “the facts are there if you bother to look”.

    In America, two trillion dollars have recently been lost and the Federal Reserve actually flat out refuse to detail who has received which funds, if you don’t believe this just switch on the television, there is a huge enquiry in congress led by Dennis Kucinich at the moment. Do you think this technology will directly contradict the Fed? I guarantee the data on offer will be cursory and not offer any real transparency.

    Agreed, it’s great to see a government embracing technology but the naivety/ignorance on display is startling.

  • @israelisassi:

    I don’t believe that technology of any kind will do anything to make factual information be available to the public. […] If I say that 3 dogs crossed the street at 8am this morning, how many people will actually verify that it happened?

    You mean just like no one will ever make enterprise open source software and no one will ever spend their own time editing pages upon pages of a free online encyclopedia. Pshaw, that’ll never work! ;)

  • israelisassi


    What I am referring to here is with regards to the government. They can put up whatever technology they want in the name of “transparency” but if the data they provide is bogus, what good is it to me or you….

  • I hear you on that, israelisassi—really, I do—but I’d still prefer to see falsified data being made available than no data whatsoever being made available. Even if it’s false, there’s a starting point, something to mine and to examine and analyze and compare against other, non-governmental data-gathering efforts of the same stripe. That’s an incredibly useful thing because it brings accountability to the governmental system in a way that previously did not exist. In other words, even if the government is going to be cheating, at least we’ve finally managed to get them to play our game. That’s a step in the right direction, IMHO.

  • Pingback: Tales from the SIOC-o-sphere part #9 « Cloudlands()

  • vbd

    Bob Carologees, Your wingnut roots are showing.

    There is nothing, absolutely nothing, about a compulsory national service term on that website. As for the two trillion…. hmmm, let’s see … who was president when it all went to hell in a handbasket? George W. Bush? Right.

    Why don’t you slink back to Free Republic or RedState or whichever wingnut cave you crawled out from?

    And leave your politics behind when you comment on this site.

  • Asthma Health

    Now, that’s the PRESIDENT I voted for. He’s surely going to do much more to the US and get us back to our feet to stand the tall giant that we are, :)

  • Pingback: Obama’s Groundbreaking use of the Semantic Web()

  • Pingback: FutureGov » Useful links » links for 2009-03-20()

  • israelisassi

    Just for the record, I did not vote for Barry O….

    Obama White House bars press from press award ceremony

  • Spindrift

    Man, do these comments reek of cynicism or what? Can we not simply talk about the *web* and how it’s a good thing that another large organization — especially one that has been as backward as the Whitehouse — is embracing open standards? I realize that all speech is political, but the politics of this issue are the viability and utility of those standards; not how you feel about budget bills.

    Those who can’t separate the two are as useless as Statler and Waldorf, but less funny. The last time Google rolled out some new magic, were you really slamming it because of their policies toward China? Are you that simple?

  • Steve Mooradian

    I’d rather have an overtly closed government than one that pretends to be open. And geez, the author speaks as if Obama’s laying down the code himself!? This potentially informative article was tainted by the author’s rapid Barack-o-gasms. Has SitePoint jumped the shark?

  • Pingback: LarKC weblog » Blog Archive » Semantic Web for Transparant Government (again)()

  • Pingback: Obama’s impressive use of Semantic Web Technologies | Herbert Mühlburger's Weblog()

  • and how it looks

Get the latest in Front-end, once a week, for free.