Those who happen to read my blog know that I am rather cynical about many enthusiastic pronouncements around open data. One of the points I keep banging on is that the most common perspective is that open data is just something that governments ought to publish for businesses and citizens to use it. This perspective misses both the importance of open data created elsewhere – such as by businesses or by people in social networks – and the impact of its use inside government. Also, there is a basic confusion between open and public data: not all open data is public and not all public data may be open (although they should, in the long run).
In this respect the new experimental site alpha.data.gov is a breath of fresh air. Announced in a recent post on the White House blog, it does not contain data, but explains which categories of open data can be used for which sort of purposes. And the nice surprise is that at the top of the page it says
A collection of open data from government, the private sector and non-profits that are fueling a new economy
There are examples of non-government open data, such as car data streams that already power new insurance business models. There are examples of personal open data, such as personal academic data for students to build personal learning profiles, around which one can imagine an ecosystem of services and applications; or personal health data, such as that supported by the Blue Button initiative. Besides, of course, plenty of government public data in areas like health, commerce, education, finance.
Alpha.data.gov hints to a new role for governments, that can shift from being simple open data providers, to become open data hubs. Whereas I suspect that large information service providers will be willing to position themselves as the open data hub of choice, alpha.data.gov can show the path, raise awareness and ultimately help governments move from being pure providers to being actual consumers of open data.