Blog post

Is Open Government Data the New Spam?

By Andrea Di Maio | November 24, 2009 | 5 Comments

open government data

My last meeting of the day was, as it often happens, the best. I met a fairly senior official in a state government who is tasked with web site consolidation, information management and engagement strategy. Quite a daunting task, but the person has clear ideas and looks determined, both useful qualities to be up to the challenge.

I was discussing about the likely conflicts between rationalizing online channels and providing the openness required to sustain citizen engagement, and we inevitably touched upon (and its emerging national incarnations across the world).

I have expressed my own doubts in the past about the possible unintended consequences of open government data and I have warned about the need to monitor the mashup process to make sure that the benefits of open data outweighs its risks- However she came up with a really interesting view by saying that

All this government data will just create  spam

Wow, isn’t this a great line? While the common wisdom suggests that tons of public data set will unleash value and benefits for all, this makes us reflect not only about the potential risks but also about the nuisance of being inundated by data that may soon become irrelevant because of their quantity and frequency. Exactly like spam. Sometimes there is a little gem in there, a special offer, the opportunity for the trip of a lifetime, and we keep ignoring and filtering all that spam as best we can.

The last time I heard another senior official saying something counterintuitive about a fashionable topic (green IT) was almost two years ago, when the CIO of a local authority in the US told me that there is nothing greener than the dollar. We all know what happens afterwards: a financial crisis, a deep recession, and the only conversation left with clients were about how to save money on IT.

So maybe It is time for government 2.0 leaders to start addressing this. Throwing data out and hoping that this will just do good may turn out to be wishful thinking.

Comments are closed


  • The short answer to your question is: no.

  • Okay – now for the longer answer:

    Open government data is not like spam. Here’s how:

    1) Spam = unwanted broadcasts. Open data must be sought by a user. The government doesn’t just spit CSVs at people. I can’t recall one time I’ve every ‘received open government data’ in broadcast form. You have to go get it.

    2) Spam = irrelevant to nearly all. Open data, especially municipal data, is RELevant to nearly all. You care about crime in your city. You care about potholes.

    3) Spam = wide spread due to it’s low cost. Open data costs money to create – tax payer money. That means it won’t be turned out like a fire house and spewed around like spam. It will be released in very deliberate ways.

    There are many more reasons I’m sure. I’ll go back to my short answer: no. Open government data is not like spam.

  • @Peter, thanks for your longer response.
    As you may have read in my post, the point is not whether open data is spam but whether can create spam. Those who will create mashups from open data (and some will be of dubious quality or intent) will inundate us all with data. No doubt some are useful, but the real issue is to what extent people will be able to access to that raw data and to what extent they will access that through mashups created by intermediaries. So, how many crime-related data are we going to see?
    I’d argue that not all these will be relevant, that the cost of mashing up will be minimal and that many will use this data as a trigger to broadcast more stuff.
    So, the spam analogy still holds.

  • Davied says:

    So, what you’re saying is:

    Internet is spam.
    Books are spam.
    Magazines are spam.
    Signs are spam.
    Conversations are spam.

    All broadcasts for minimal costs and mostly irrelevant. I don’t think I’m getting you’re point …

    Aren’t you talking about information overflow instead of spam?

  • Peter Olejnik says:


    When talking about governmental data, everything is relevant; however, it takes, I think, an entrepreneurial mind to use data and make from it something of value. In some cases, I understand your point; if mismanaged, this initiative could be a huge blunder. On the other hand, if monitored correctly, this open data initiative could be momentous to the history of internet technology.

    One thing is certain: with the accelerated pace of RIA technology — and taking into account cloud services and current mobile developments — government at least owes it to their constituents to foster a culture of job creation and innovation. Open data is a necessary tool and the first step towards a solution that does just that.