A lot of really neat government data is just around, waiting for people to do things with it. People use it for apps that geolocate stuff, mashing one set of publicly available data with another; Needlebase (retiring in June) has some really fantastic sample databases that use public data, and it’s really fun to explore how that’s linked.
There are a couple fascinating datasets that have been released recently, or at least have been updated with a fascinating interface. The 1940′s census data is all over library blogs (libraries – both public libraries and specialized genealogical libraries – are a very popular starting point for ancestry research), and has actually been experiencing access problems because of unexpected demand. The interface is really pretty beautiful, and obviously I’ve looked up my grandparents’ families and imagined a little about what they were like at the time this census was taken. The one drawback when exploring the data, though, is that you need to zero in by location rather than by name or any other kind of data point; I know this is the way the data is organized, but it makes it a little difficult to navigate. Obviously the NYPL has done something about this and created a pathway using 1940′s telephone directories, which is pretty simple and brilliant.
There’s also the 2011 Federal Taxpayer Receipt, which calculates what your federal tax paid for in 2011 based on either your tax information or your estimated income. I love the way they’ve designed this interface, and it really helps humanize the data to see what my personal contribution was. I wish I could see the data as one big set, though, and I also wish a large percentage of it had not gone towards ongoing military operations, but I do appreciate the transparency this information represents.