Attended the ‘Opening Up Government Data’ day in DERI, in Galway, today. Some interesting presentations and demonstrations of tools such as Google Public Data Explorer and Simile Widgets – to enable you to work with linked open data.
In one of our breakout sessions we discussed why companies would choose to share their data – ie publish it in formats which are easy for others to consume (e.g. csv, not pdf). Granted many businesses have web sites, describing their offerings, providing some background on the company, potentially inviting comment or queries and answering some Frequently Asked Questions. But very few offer much data arising from their product or market research, their production statistics or their sales campaigns. In general they would regard this information as confidential and constituting some element of their ‘Competitive advantage’.
Today’s seminar really focused on government publishing data which it might be argued belongs to the citizens. However, understandably, there was plenty of discussion around this in terms of the efforts required to publish it, the potential ownership of the data, maintaining the data going forward, etc. There was some discussion as to whether ther should be a charge for this data on the basis of the costs associated and the potential for companies to generate come commercial benefit. Plenty of solid reasons were put forward for publishing the data – transparency, accountability , etc.
Much of this debate brought me back to thinking about privacy, Mark Zuckerburg’s general approach with Facebook, differing attitudes to publishing personal information on sites such as Facebook, twitter, google+, foursquare, etc. Why do some people choose to share their views on politics, on the economy, their location in a restaurant – whereas others want nothing shared?
I think this question ‘Why publish your data?’ can be addressed in all of these contexts – individuals, government and corporates. And the answer is - because the person or the organisation sees some value in its publication. At the personal level the social networks and smart phones have made publishing data so much easier. What we are now seeing emerge for business and government are a range of platforms and tools which may all of this a lot easier for government and companies. And a little like individuals – not sure that anyone has really worked out where all of this is taking us.
Some newspapers have figured it out – by making their content available, by marking it up semantically, they become more relevant to more entities for longer. But that’s a little different to publishing data which is a product of lots of research completed at your own cost – on the basis that it’s good for society or that of I do it then someone else will publish other data in exchange which I can exploit.