Why Open Data is all about Apps, and why it shouldn’t be!
Open data initiatives rock. In fact, without the trend of government and international organizations releasing their data under open licenses, DataMarket.com wouldn’t be so incredibly interesting. So obviously we love them!
Yet, I have something of a grudge against the emphasis on very specialized apps in Open Data initiatives. “Apps for this”, “Apps for that”, competitions, cute little prices, etc., etc.
Now don’t get me wrong, many of these apps are great, but they only release a tiny fraction of the value in all the data that has been opened up. That’s certainly true of each single app, but it’s also true of them in aggregate. Here’s why.
Most, if not all of the data that has been opened up, has been published in a format that is relatively accessible to developers and other data savvy people, but not so much for consumption by mere mortals. Therefore, in order for a successful app to emerge, three things have to come together as depicted in this Venn diagram:
- Data has to be available
- There must be obvious user demand
- And as developers are the “keymakers” to all this data, there must be some developer incentive, be that money, coolness, recognition by peers or all of the above
Looking at the examples of successful open data apps out there, this pattern becomes quite obvious. Take the plethora of city data that has been opened up over the last 3 years or so. An overwhelming majority of the successful apps created on top of this data are transportation apps. All three elements are there. The data, the obvious need by millions of people and the developer incentive to: scratch their own itch, create awesomeness and make money (roughly in order of priority). And these apps are cool, I use some of them almost every day!
However, because of the three requirements mentioned earlier, there is such a great portion of the data that has been opened that is still just lying around unused. Again, Venn:
I’ll use another example of city data to explain: Sewage data. The data is there, but the demand may not be obvious, and there’s nothing sexy about making this data more accessible. I mean: “Who loves sewage information?”
Tell you what. I’m sure that if this data could be made better available to:
- …construction workers to prevent pipe cuts
- …environmentalists and policy makers to improve the regulatory environment
- …advertisers to calculate the percentage of the half-game audience that missed their ad when taking a leak
…the overall social and economic benefits of better access to sewage data alone could be quite dramatic. And that’s just one example.
So, what I’m getting at is this: When thinking about Open Data initiatives, think beyond the apps. Think not only about the high publicity use cases that are a worth a few dollars to millions of users. Think also about the less sexy cases that can help a few people save us millions of dollars in aggregate, generate new insights and improve decision making on various levels.
Think about how you can encourage data portals making the bulk of your data accessible to mere mortals, not only to developers. Think how you can get existing software vendors to integrate your data, and how you can make business users and other decision makers aware that this data indeed exists.
There could be more to Open Data than a bunch of cool consumer apps.