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Geeks and government converge at the FCC

Gina Trapani talks about the ThinkUp app and the FCC's first Open Developer Day.

Yesterday, the first FCC developer day focused on open government innovation. For a day, the commission room that has hosted hearings on spectrum policy, licensing, mergers and net neutrality was full of geeks focused on making something useful from the FCC’s new APIs and open data stores.

One of those geeks is well-known to many developers: the founding editor of Lifehacker, Gina Trapani. I spoke with her in the FCC’s new TEC Lab about her work on the ThinkUp app, the prototype apps that came out of the hackathon, and the potential for geeks to create better outcomes for citizens – and maybe make a few dollars along the way — with open government data.

Will a rebooted FCC.gov become a platform for applications driven by open government data? If that vision is going to come to fruition, the nation’s pre-eminent communication regulator will have to do more than just publish open data sets in machine readable formats. It must also develop a community of software developers that benefits from creating such applications.

Monday’s FCC developer day was a first step toward that future. Whether it’s a successful one will depend on how the applications help citizens, businesses or other organizations do something new. In the process, expect a few savvy entrepreneurs to tap into the goldmine of Gov 2.0, empowering citizens along the way.

UPDATE Trapani wrote up her field notes from the FCC’s open developer day for Fast Company. “While the event yielded fewer ‘hacks’ than other similar ones I’ve attended, Open Developer Day was still a success,” she wrote. “That’s because it was marked a new direction for the FCC, which opened its doors to coders and began building a community of civic hackers around its resources.”

As we discussed in the interview, three new apps were created at the event:

The first webapp uses the FCC’s Broadband Speed Test API and HTML5′s browser-based location feature. It detects where you are located in the US, and displays wireless and wireline maximum and average upload and download speed there.

The second was an iPhone app which uses the FCC’s FRN Conversions API. Enter a state, and the app returns a list of broadband providers in the area, as well as broadband speed test results.

The last creation combined MapBox, and open source mapping API, and Google Analytics to generate a map of visitors to a web site.

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