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Before the Internet age, when my car had some minor problem, I would choose a car shop at random and walk out with a whopping bill for some possibly unnecessary service. Today, the Internet provides me with abundant warnings about unscrupulous mechanics and helpful hints about automotive ailments. Reams of reviews help us choose books and hotel rooms, and harder data help us to select cars and refrigerators.
Yet when it comes to local governments, which provide the very services we need to keep our communities healthy and safe, we often seem stuck in an age that is closer to James Michael Curley than Steve Jobs. And even as individual municipalities, including Boston, move toward greater openness, a single community’s information is of limited use on its own.