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6 insights about the ever-changing world of Open Data

William Lovegrove knows a lot about data. He has created mobile apps based on open data and launched cloud based data sharing platform Datownia. He has seen the good and the bad sides of open data. Here he shares six insights about this changeable (and sometimes confusing) part of the industry.

1. Open Data is everywhere

We can’t avoid it. The public and the private sector are interested in it. People are looking for it. Techies are wondering how to use it. As a result there is more open data out there than ever before.

2. How do you differentiate yourself if your product is based on Open Data?

When you build a product using open data, anyone can come along and build a different product using the same data. It’s impossible to create a USP for a product based solely on open data. Product owners who are first to market may get some advantage, but this advantage is destroyed by competition over time as more similar products enter the market. In this situation there is a “race to the bottom” as app owners seek to gain market advantage by lowering price. Unlimited access to data devalues that data in a commercial sense, even though it may increase the value in a social sense. If the data is there, it can still be tricky to figure out where the value is.

3. Public vs. private

The UK government is very interested in opening up their data, and there is a moral argument for governments opening up public data. It is after all tax-payers who are funding a lot of the stuff governments do and the tax-payers should have the right to as much transparency in the public sector as possible. It’s not equally clear where the benefit in opening up data lies for the private sector. There are some benefits in doing it for PR reasons. The private sector needs to think hard and work hard when it comes to open data. The value might lie in analytics instead of in the content itself.

4. Where is the money?

Different businesses use open data in different ways. Apple has released data so other companies can build app-reporting tools for them. App-reporting is only a secondary target for Apple (the main thing is of course app-selling) and having other companies build tools using their data is a good idea even though there isn’t any direct monetary gain for Apple (unless there are app-reporting-apps sold through iTunes). Start-ups might open up their data for different reasons, to get publicity, to be noticed, to get traction.

5. Open data vs. quasi-open Data

Not everything that looks like open data is actually open. A lot of data comes with strings attached, and that’s quasi-open data. If companies want to control some of the process or control how third parties are using their data, that means their data is quasi-open. Open Data purists will tell you that the real deal can be sourced anonymously and used totally freely.

6. Don’t be scared of the far-out stuff

There are plenty of possibilities and opportunities when it comes to Open Data. How about opening up music meta-data and allowing it to be cleaned and organised with the help of crowd-sourcing – an example of this could be musicians getting their hands on PRS meta-data and cleaning it up. How can you control such a process? Or even make sure those involved are truthful. It might not work. But thinking outside the box might be a good thing when it comes to finding new opportunities in this still quite confusing field.

William Lovegrove is the chair of the Music 4.5 Open Data event on the 5th of March.

Image via Hatters.