An increasing number of cities in the United States and Canada are releasing data to developers to use in applications.
While regions have released geographic information system (GIS) data for some time, such data required complicated software to use. Cities are now releasing all kinds of data, some of them as simple as Microsoft Excel spreadsheets.
In October, San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom required that City departments make all non-confidential datasets under their authority available on DataSF.org. Dozens are available, ranging from city surveys, election statements and ballot measures, and performance measures, as well as a great deal of GIS data.
Such initiatives enable developers -- not just for computers, but also for smart phones such as the iPhone -- to say "there's an app for that" regarding all sorts of city services, including mashups between them. New York is having a contest to develop interesting applications, while San Francisco has posted a showcase of interesting apps online.
The other advantage, notes the New York Times in an article about the phenomenon, is that if third parties are developing such applications, the cities themselves don't have to.