Just recently, a colleague has turned me on to “open data”. I confess that it took me a little while to wrap my brain around it. For the last 6+ years, I’ve exclusively focused on keeping data NOT open. That is, I’ve worked hard to maintain privacy and keep a very tight lid on what’s done with data and who sees it. So when I heard about the Indy Civic Hackathon, I was simultaneously intrigued and confused. I mean, how are total strangers with little to no knowledge of government data going to do anything meaningful in one day? As Vizzini said in The Princess Bride, “INCONCEIVABLE!” …or is it? As it turns out, there’s quite a lot that can be done in a hackathon. It’s also catching on not just on the coasts, but also right here in the midwest like Indy and South Bend. Heck, even Lahore Pakistan got in on the action.
Of course it’s understandable that most have their hands full just trying to deal with their own company’s data. Many companies are still busy trying to unlock the value of their own data and just don’t think of other data sources. However, there’s a growing understanding that there’s real value in open data. With the advancement in available API’s and the technologies to easily build apps with them, there’s a ground swell of realization that, “hey, I can really do something interesting here!”. That is, new apps based on open data are proving out “Big Data” and it’s “V’s” as many are starting to see value in not just the “volume” V but also the “variety” V.
Beyond just the value of new apps themselves is the change in mindset that comes from using publicly available information. Suddenly, it’s not just the handful of developers that you have employed in your company that can create new apps. Now, it’s just about anyone who knows how to code and has a real interest to make something happen. The obvious argument will be that if anyone can create an app, the quality will suffer. I think this is where things really get interesting because the more transparent things are the more peer pressure takes over and/or the marketplace will demand quality. Who is going to use an app that crashes all the time or has inaccurate information?
When you crowd-source a new app, who knows what different ideas will come out…obviously not all of them will be great…but think of the possibilities. I’ll be interested to see the results of Indy’s Hackathon on May 31!