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Will Open Data Have the Same Fate As Open Source?

by Andrea Di Maio  |  December 1, 2011  |  5 Comments

I read an interesting post by Glyn Moody, who had just attended the South Tyrol Free Software Conference and makes an interesting parallel between open data and open source.

Just as the success of free software led to the founding on companies based around that freely-available code, so I think we are about to see a wave of exciting new startups based around freely-available data

I predict that there will also be indirect models. The distinction can be seen in the world of open source, where there are companies like Red Hat that make money from open source directly – selling various kinds of services – and others like Facebook that simply use open source for its operations.

Open data is not only of interest to companies that want to make money from it. Just as open source has become an accepted tool for most businesses today, I predict that more and more of them will routinely draw on the growing bodies of open data for their businesses – after all, given that it’s freely available, they’d be mad not to.

So it should not be surprising that so few companies look like being able to make money out of open data. In fact, there are only a handful who make money out of directly selling or leveraging open source software, but there are many more that thrive by using it.

Application contests and other means to engage application developers to develop citizen-facing apps are of limited value to explore the indirect value of open data. The most obvious beneficiaries of open data are governments themselves, as they become able to look at each other data. Earlier today I had a great conversation with a client  from a small German local authority whose only interest in open data was to gather data from other cities for comparison and competition purposes.

Many recognize the internal, less glamorous value of open data, but – as a client put it once – telling people that open government’s primary purpose is to let departments know each other better is not a politically astute value proposition, although it may bethe absolute truth.

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Category: open-government-data  open-source-in-government  

Andrea Di Maio
Managing VP
19 years at Gartner
33 years IT industry

Andrea Di Maio is a managing vice president for public sector in Gartner Research, covering government and education. His personal research focus is on digital government strategies, open government, the business value of IT, smart cities, and the impact of technology on the future of government Read Full Bio


Thoughts on Will Open Data Have the Same Fate As Open Source?


  1. Andrew Ecclestone says:

    Andrea, the point about open government enabling departments to better know what each other is doing is a point I’ve made in a number of countries when speaking to them about constructing their Freedom of Information laws. It’s particularly relevant in the context of developing nations that may also be struggling with reform of their civil service. Development literature contains examples of senior officials trying to introduce new practices to ‘professionalise’ their bureaucracies, but failing to overcome deeply entrenched interests which run counter to their laudable intentions. It’s not surprising that its difficult to reduce bribery of public officials when their official salary isn’t enough to live on. But if openness laws require disclosure – or even proactive publication of the sort of performance data that goes into monthly internal management reports (/dashboard reporting) then a better informed public is empowered to become advocates in support of the professionalisation reforms sought by the senior management.

    Of course, the counter argument to this is nicely set out in Christopher Hood’s 2007 paper ‘What happens when transparency meets blame avoidance?’, which is well worth reading if you don’t already know it.

    PS Very pleased to see you distinguishing between ‘open data’ and ‘open government’. They’re far from synonymous.

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  3. Greg Hutchinson says:

    “…telling people that open government’s primary purpose is to let departments know each other better is not a politically astute value proposition…”

    If you consider open government a policy that government is trying to sell to the public, you’re right.

    But often open government is a policy that members of the public or public servants are trying to sell to the government. This type of value proposition can be useful to overcome the institutional inertia that prevents governments from sharing data.

  4. Greg, open government can meet different goals, and so does open data. I am slightly suspicious about the member of the public who ask for open data, as they usually constitute either the gov 2.0 lobby (mostly application developers and other techies) or the usual suspects (e.g. the press or political activists). Nothing wrong with that, but I do not feel that open data will realize its full potential until when it solves concrete problems. I would argue that public servant who push for data sharing across agencies probably have clearer ideas about which problems could be solved than the average member of the public. But once again, this is often perceived as a politically-incorrect position, especially in places where there is an (often ill-conceived) distrust for public servants.

  5. Andrew, thanks for your comments. As I have often said, open data must be a means to an end. Jurisdictions with urgent problem to solve (either corruption or financial sustainability) may be those that benefit most.



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