Now you can find the answers to these questions, using data.gov, the stated purpose of which is “to increase public access to high value, machine readable datasets generated by the Executive Branch of the Federal Government.” I’ve been writing for a while about the publishing power of the internet, but data.gov takes this to a whole new level.
It’s definitely a starting point, not an end, as there are only 47 raw datasets that you can access. They cover a wide range of data and agencies, and were apparently chosen to kick things off because they “already enjoy a high degree of consensus around definitions, are in formats that are readily usable, include the availability of metadata, and provide support for machine-to-machine data transfer.” The four main formats for data provided by data.gov are XML, CSV, KML and ESRI. (There are also a number of widgets, and tools you can use, including the census factfinder.)
More datasets can be requested, and I’m hoping that they will be rolled out soon. What a playground! Go take a look!
Update, 4:55: Here’s a great article on the whole process and problem.