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Open data: it’s beautiful!

05 Jan

One of the things I love about the web is the ease and the speed with which it creates transparency and the way it forces institutions to open up and share. A great example is WikiLeaks where the recent release of secret cables from US diplomats caused a massive media and diplomatic storm. It draws attention to to the fairly recent phenomenon of “open data” which I learned about.

I guess “open data” is all about opening up government data, providing the general public with easy access and enabling them to use this data in whichever way they like. The information thus shared could potentially vary from the US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan to understanding how local councils are spending tax payers’ money.

Open data ‘champions’ such as Tim Berners-Lee, Nigel Shadbolt and Heather Brooke continue to make a strong case for all public bodies to open up their data. Not only is there a growing focus on transparency and accountability of public bodies but also a large increase in the number of people with the technical skills to make good use of these public data.

As a result, both the UK government (through data.gov.uk) and the US government (through its “Open Government” initiative) have been directing a lot of effort towards making government much more accessible to the public. I’m particularly interested in the (re) use of of publicly available government data with people creating useful applications which clearly serve a greater good. Good examples are a London cycle hire app and FixMyStreet which enables people to “view, report or discuss local problems”.

The opening up of previously ‘hidden’ data is an exciting recent development. The main things I’ve learned about open data thus far:

  1. Open data is inevitable – The web has both caused and facilitated an increase in government accountability and a general need for transparency.
  2. How will the data be used and reused? It will be interesting to see how the datasets released by governments and public bodies will be (re) used by the public. There are some interesting examples out there of apps that technology-savvy people have created and which make good use of publicly available data.

Main learning point: I guess the main challenge with open data is to convert raw and seemingly boring public datasets into accessible, useful applications. Ultimately, the more people (re) using these data will help to create even greater transparency and open up more data.

Related links for further learning:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2010/jan/21/timbernerslee-government-data

http://scraplab.net/2009/03/11/pedal-cycle-incident-data-in-kml/

http://mashable.com/2010/08/13/open311-apps/

http://datamineruk.wordpress.com/2010/11/12/the-web-data-revolution-a-new-future-for-journalism/

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Posted by on January 5, 2011 in Online Trends, Open Data

 

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