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Open Data is the concept of a data set being made available for download or consumption without restrictions from copyright, patents or other mechanisms of control. There are many types of Open Data available such as financial, demographic, scientific, health, geographical, and sports related data.

Open Data In Government

By far the most advanced in the area of making data open to everyone are cities, municipalities and countries. Probably due to the fact that they are, in most cases, obligated by law.  Some are very complete and amazing to analyze.  Just look at the amount of data that is out there https://www.data.gov/open-gov/.  Impressive!

Cities and municipalities have been championing the concept of open data to include anything from financial and budgetary data to statistics on crime, energy use, elections, recreational, zoning and building and public safety.  The City of Sacramento is a great example of a well exposed Open Data portal (http://data.cityofsacramento.org/home).

Open Data In Science

It is a well known fact that desperate times accelerate progress.  Take every major war from the early ages onwards where each tragedy was accompanied by an accelerated growth in science and technology. It is quite simple, put a bunch of  subject area experts in a single room with no barriers of communication, company privacy rules, no NDA, free to share and explore ideas and concepts together and you see very fast results – from the atomic bomb to space exploration, from radar to medicine, faster transportation and communication and so much more. All due to the removal of barriers in sharing data, knowledge and expertise.

It is estimated that if the top 25% companies/groups working on cancer research were to conduct their work with full disclosure of their findings on a regular basis, most cancer forms would be treatable by now. If this is true or not we will most likely never know. The legal risks and financial interests make it difficult to actually put this into practice.

Hospitals sell their data to generate more revenue to offset their costs, as opposed to sharing it with other hospitals and health entities to identify patterns of disease, operational efficiencies, and optimize shared pools of supplies.  It is unfortunate that data is more valuable to  vendors and data aggregators for re-selling and commercialization rather than advancing our health system.  UK’s NHS Open Data commission is a good example of how the tides may be changing.

Retail Open Data

Data is a commodity, everyone knows this.  Self-generating data is a much bigger commodity. Walmart was one of the first to be aware of this in the 90’s when they realized that their suppliers would pay money (a lot of it) to understand how their product sells across the Walmart stores around the country.  If they can provide some data on how their compare to their competitors – so much the better. What are those suppliers going to do?  Pull out from Walmart?

Amazon’s knowledge of people’s buying habits is, as far as we can tell, put to their own internal use to suggest purchases.  Could Open Data help people buy smarter, cheaper, safer?  Yes.  Will it ever be available?  Probably No.

Open Data On The Internet

There was a time when you could actually have access, albeit with some technical knowledge, to data on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.  Over the years these platforms have been slowly turning the Open Data tap off.  LinkedIn was the first to basically remove any access via API to their extensive data sets that included relationships, profiles and employment.  The same data that we voluntarily give out each day to them, they in turn sell it to those that can afford it.  Facebook and Twitter, as examples, acquired companies that exclusively sell our own data back to us!

Conclusion

Data is not an object that we can clearly establish ownership.  Most of the times, data is made up from many people, statistically modified, machine generated, and ultimately modified by data cleansing processes and transformations.  Whereas government data must be made public because technically it was generated by all of us, the citizens, tax payers, and property owners in our individual countries, cities and municipalities, the same is not true for data that we generate on social networks, online sites and commercial apps.  Where is the line drawn as to what needs to be made open and what is truly proprietary?  What impact will that have in businesses that are based on exactly that; gathering and reselling our data to 3rd parties.

And if you are wondering what you can do with open data, just take a look at this performance by one of our Heroes here at ClicData; Mr. Hans Rosling in his Ted Talk in 2006.