Open for Business

Yesterday afternoon I attended a very interesting video conference on the topic of open data in government. For those of you unfamiliar with the topic, it’s pretty much as the name suggests — governments making some of the vast amounts of information they collect freely available to the public to use or mash up as they see fit (within the specified terms of use, obviously).

Open data is relatively new, but it is already being used and transformed in many exciting ways. For example, here’s an interesting open data-based geo-spatial mashup I saw the other day. If I was shopping for a house in San Francisco, this is the kind of stuff I would like to know before I make my final choice.

Anyways, back to yesterday. The session focused specifically on what the city of Vancouver is doing around open data. To learn more about what Vancouver is doing, start with this article or go straight to the City of Vancouver open data website. The data site contains links to all of the information the city is offering up, in a variety of formats. It also contains terms of use for the material, as well as a wiki where developers can share ideas on how they might use this data to create cool new applications and web services. The Vancouver initiative is still in its infancy, but there are lots of lessons learned that will prove valuable to other jurisdictions thinking of opening their data as well.

I applaud the world of open. It makes governments more transparent and accessible. It gives the public access to data that, technically speaking, they have paid for with their tax dollars. And it creates an environment in which new ideas and new applications of existing information can emerge.

Of course, not all government data would be of interest to the general public, or be suitable for dissemination. Crime data, for example, would need to be scrubbed of names and other sensitive information before anyone could use it. Other privacy concerns undoubtedly exist as well.

It will be interesting to see where open data takes us. Surely the collective intelligence of the general public will find a ton of uses for it that were never dreamed of by the government that created that data. Time will tell.

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About shermanator001

Project Manager at Open School BC, a cost-recovery educational resource provider housed within the BC provincial government. I specialize in the management, design, and development of print and online courses for high school students and training and informational resources for various public sector clients.
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