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Hack this data!

Much like how blogs revolutionized online publishing, mashups are revolutionizing web development by giving creative power to the masses. Many mashups are relatively easy to design with minimal technical knowledge, and thus custom mashups are being designed by unlikely innovators, utilizing data in creative and unique ways.

Take, for example, www.scorecard.org. The US-based Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) launched the application in 1998 (yes, that's right, almost 10 years ago) to aggregate hundreds of sources of public data to create a powerful USA-wide tool for assessing environmental risks. Visitors to the site can type in their zip code and get instant access to a wealth of indicators and information about pollution sources in their region.

Again, this is another example of the importance of making publicly accessible data "hackable". Despite the valiant attempts of report writers to display data in meaningful ways, users will continue to come up with new, and sometimes better ways to reconfigure and redisplay data to their community of interest.

With the Internet moving away from a publish-and-browse model towards more of a space for social interaction, open platforms and well-designed Web services can help facilitate citizen participation in finding solutions to concrete social problems. For those of us still out there who's idea of using the internet for indicator reporting is to simply convert the paper report into an html version, it's time to to take a look around at some of the innovative work being done in the non-profit sector.

Watershed health across the USA