So What Are We Going to Actually Do With All This Open Data?

Each day, it seems, I spot another announcement for another way to access yet more open data from both primary and secondary (indexing/aggregating) sources. Today it was an API to Search the world’s development and aid data from the Guardian datablog.

But so what? How many effective users are there likely to be for such services?

In a post that seemed to get a fair amount of traction last week (Open Data: Empowering the Empowered or Effective Data Use for Everyone?), Mike Gurstein wrote:

Efforts to extend access to “data” will perhaps inevitably create a “data divide” parallel to the oft-discussed “digital divide” between those who have access to data which could have significance in their daily lives and those who don’t. Associated with this will, one can assume, be many of the same background conditions which have been identified as likely reasons for the digital divide—that is differences in income, education, literacy and so on. However, just as with the “digital divide”, these divisions don’t simply stop or be resolved with the provision of digital (or data) “access”. What is necessary as well, is that those for whom access is being provided are in a position to actually make use of the now available access (to the Internet or to data) in ways that are meaningful and beneficial for them.
The question then becomes, who is in a position to make “effective use” of this newly available data?

Just as with OERs and more a than a few JISC software development projects and pilots, just because the stuff is there, published and even licensed for easy use, it doesn’t mean anyone will actually even find the stuff, let alone know what to do with if they do.

Maybe one way is to get some evangelism, advocacy or community development going? Which is exactly what Talis appear to be doing: Job Ad: Community Manager

Here at Talis we’re building a new product called Kasabi. It’s an environment that is designed to bring together data publishers and consumers, and provide them with the tools they need to discover, share, remix and use data. Community will be a strong theme in the product and we are now looking for a Community Manager to help us grow and nurture that community.

The Community Manager will take an active role in the community, participating in discussions around the hosted datasets and services to help users get the most from the data and services. …

The Community Manager will recognise that the Kasabi community is not limited to the Kasabi site itself and will engage with the wider developer community either online or through events both here in the UK and abroad. We’re looking for someone who is a natural connector, has the ability and patience to liaise with users of varying abilities, and enjoys getting a group of developers together to create some cool applications.

As well as supporting the community the Community Manager will work with the developer team to represent the community, provide input on new product features, and help us to create the best possible product.

For all the Knowledge Trasnfer initiatives that go on, I don’t feel as if I pick up on many projects coming out of academia.

exploiting academic outputs

It may be that universities see development as research, and therefore something to be kept secret (?!), or whether they don’t think anyone else will be interested? In part, JISC’s DevCSI developer community programme has been helping to bring down barriers, and the increasing requirement for JISC project blog means that projects in progress are slowly becoming more discoverable. For my own part, I know from my inbox, twitter and blog comments that publishing disconnected half-finished ramblings has led to “knowledge transfer” at a micro-level

Years ago, I idly picked up on a thought from Stephen Downes: “having been around enough to have seen some history (and still a bit surprised to be in such a position) I would suggest that most of the ‘innovations’ brought to us by Google, Apple, Yahoo, Microsoft, YouTube etc. originated in academic environments and were copied by the corporations in question. In some cases, the corporation itself had its genesis in an academic environment”, with a short post on Time for TechCrunch, Academic?:

I quite agree… and with the commoditisation of web scalable infrastructure that you pay for as you use it (think Amazon web sevices, Zimki and so on) I wonder whether the trend will be towards increasing numbers of academic projects spinning out of the lab (or maybe even course project work?) and into beta?
So – maybe there’s scope for a TechCrunch Academic, that can cover neat stuff going on in academic research labs and help out with academics’ often neglected public engagement and knowledge transfer activities.

To a certain extent, the JISC Regional Support Services have a role in advocacy (at least, I know is that Martin Hawksey advocates like crazy!:-), and I suspect that JISC TechWatch is supposed to too, (although I don’t see much through my filters…) At the end of the day, I wonder if the problem is this: I see the web as a constituency that we should be opening up to simply because we don’t know what connections might be forthcoming from it. In face to face contact, how many people can you meet with a day? How many useful conversations? If you get at least that many interactions back from posting stuff on the web, isn’t that just as good?

And then we come back to data… Academia has had data in buckets for years, much of it produced at public expense. Which makes me think: haven’t we had a data divide in academia for years?

PS and this, just in, sort of related: Announcing the Gephi Consortium: investing in an open source tool likely to be useful to both academia and industry.

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...