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Twitter is currently echoing the excitement of open data advocates and data geeks alike, due the release of data.gov, an open and free web repository that aims to provide public access to US Federal Government datasets. Or, in official terms: "The purpose of Data.gov is to increase public access to high value, machine readable datasets generated by the Executive Branch of the Federal Government". However, while this means that the data has finally become freely available, it is certainly not yet accessible or even understandable for lay people. The huge homepage banner "Discover. Participate. Engage." therefore seems a bit hollow, as long as there are no interfaces and visualizations to really allow the general audience to explore the knowledge and insights hidden within. We are therefore all curious when and what online data visualizations will soon exploit this opportunity to bring data closer to people!

Hence Sunlight Labs has just launched, in partnership with Google, O'Reilly Media and TechWeb, a contest called "Apps for America", including $25,000 in awards." The contest submissions will also show the creativity of developers in designing compelling applications that provide easy access and understanding for the public, while also showing how open data can save the government tens of millions of dollars by engaging the development community in application development at far cheaper rates than traditional government contractors."

If you are interested in data.gov, you might also like USgoXML.com, another index of web services and XML data sources that have been provided by the US government.

You might also want to know that today was also the launch of the Open Government Initiative website.

More information and (mixed) reviews about the data.gov website can be found at Huffington Post, Wired and ReadWriteWeb, and probably at many more news outlets very soon.

European Union, what are you waiting for?