You probably heard or even checked out the big Government Datastores such as Data.gov in the US and a similar offering in the UK, or the data streams offered by the world bank. But on the heels of these national data initiatives some big cities are quickly making use of public datastores as well. One example is the city of London.
Why Open Data?
From traffic information to rent-a-bike stations, layer by layer, datapoint by datapoint, the information that has long been slumbering in a database is now accessible and it seems that such initiatives will not be just a short lived trend.
Information helps to find what you look for. And with some creative energy and knowledge of data analysis there are surprisingly many ways to extract meaning from the datasets that every authority has collected.
London Data Store as an example
Take London: today, there are quite a few tweets pointing at a blog entry, with the title "How London Leads the Way in Techno Wizardry
", that has been published in the "Evening Standard".
One observation that should be motivating for other cities and countries to follow suit is this: Once the data is openly available, it often does not take long until someone has somehow figured out how to use it in a smart way for smartphone apps. The result is a better access to information that makes life easier.
The radical thing about these apps is that the Government doesn't produce them. Transport for London develops bike apps - instead, it just released the bike hire information in real time, and London's entrepreneurial software developers did the rest. Over a weekend, various sophisticated, consumer-friendly smartphone bike hire apps appeared on the market. (Source: Evening Standard)
Open Data is winning the argument
Ten years ago, this would have been close to impossible. The pioneers of the open data movement had to argue long and hard with official authorities to convince them that unlocking the data is beneficial.
Imagine the first ever open data discussion inside a statistical office. Someone proposing to simply open the data vaults for everyone. They must have laughed about the idea.
Make no mistake: Many bureaucratic hurdles had to be pushed aside. Now, we can see the spiral of develoments going upward. Buzz on Twitter
along with positive press coverage like in the article from London Standard will further fuel the movement.
This is not just of marginal, nerdy interest - a third of Londoners now have smartphones. One application, Tube Deluxe, which shows live departure boards of the Underground, the quickest routes and whether there are any delays, has been downloaded by 350,000 people.
Relevant for everyone
(Source: Evening Standard)
These are early days of this experiment with open data. There will be drawbacks and problems in the future. But for now, the first results are very promising.
Around the world open data initiatives are started, a nice list can be found here, courtesy of the Civic Commons Wiki
There is a chance, that by knitting together the information that is already there with PCs and mobile phones, many areas of daily life are bound to change: Traffic, finding jobs, real estate, learning. This is relevant not just for technology, it is a perspective for many people. Just use the data.
Anthony Browne, "How London Leads the Way with Data Wizardry
", Evening Standard, Jan. 18. 2011