Sebastopol digital innovator wins $2 million Google grant

  • Carl Malamud of Public.Resource.org is using a $2 million grant from Google to put primary legal information online such as city laws and codes, Friday Sept. 24, 2010 in Sebastopol. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2010

Carl Malamud, a digital provocateur, has been lighting fires under government bureaucrats for nearly two decades.

On Friday, the Bodega resident received two million more matchsticks to encourage U.S. governments and municipalities to innovate online.

Google awarded $2 million to Malamud's nonprofit group, Public.Resource.Org. It was one of five organizations to share $10 million in prize money awarded "for ideas to change the world."

Malamud's idea is to make government more transparent by pressuring officials to post online legal rulings, building codes and other underpinnings of American civic life in a format accessible to anyone.

"That's the raw material of our democracy," Malamud, 51, said Friday from his office in Sebastopol. "All legal materials in the United States should be available."

Currently, the amount of information placed online by governments from the federal level to city halls is inconsistent, and often in format that are not easily searched or compiled into databases.

Plus, much of the public material that is online is on sites that charge people for access, such as the federally run PACER database that charges 8-cents per page for court documents.

Malamud plans to spend some of the $2 million from Google to work with Sonoma County and local cities to get all local laws such as building codes and city ordinances online.

The money could not have come at a better time for Malamud. Public.Resource.Org was down to its last $2,000.

"I was really sucking wind," Malamud said. "This is huge. This is two years plus of financing."

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