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The Business of Open Data

The following guest post is from Hjalmar Gislason, an open data activist, member of the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Working Group on EU Open Data, and founder of structured data start-up, DataMarket.

The rise of Open Data in the last 3-4 years is no news to anybody reading this blog. More and more public organizations are buying into the idea, governments are running each other over in setting up data portals and leading intellectual magazines and newspapers have devoted special reports to this rising trend.

However, we still do not have a lot to show for it. Yes, there has been some innovation. Yes, corruption has been discovered. Yes, there are examples of data journalism where improved access to data has brought new insights. But nowhere near as much as the most prominent advocates promised us.

As Gartner analyst Andrea Di Malio recently put it “It is time to move open government from being good to being useful.

Unleashing the Value of Open Data

When I arrived back home from O’Reilly’s Gov 2.0 Expo in Washington last month, I felt very similar to Di Malio. I actually jotted some of my thoughts down in a blog post I called The Commercial Opportunities in Open Data:

The revolution here is that an enormous amount of valuable data is becoming easily and freely available all over the world. Some of this data has never been made public before and certainly not this accessible. In gathering this data lie thousands – no – probably hundreds of thousands of man-years, whose output has until now only been used to a fraction of its potential. Imagine the value in all that work, in all that data! And this data has real, practical, monetary value to virtually every business, household and individual. But only a tiny fraction of them know that yet. The real commercial opportunity in Open Data lies in helping people discover all this data, see its potential and realize how they can make use of it to run their businesses better, make better decisions and identify new opportunities.

Now, if you can spark this – if you can help businesses and society in general releasing value, there will be ways for you to be a part of that value chain.

The Business of Open Data

My company – DataMarket – is working on exactly this. We’ve integrated to a lot of open, public data sources to our data portal and our approach is this: data that is open and free to begin with will still be open and free on DataMarket, just easier to find and use.

We only launched, here in Iceland, about six weeks ago. But I know for a fact that we’re already releasing value for businesses and individuals that otherwise hadn’t been.

The business model we’re imposing on top of this two-fold:

  • Some features of the system, such as personal dashboards, scheduled email reports and API access is only available to paying subscribers.
  • Access to premium data, such as market research, financial market data and analyst forecasts is sold for a fee. As the company name implies, this is a market for data, even though a lot of the “merchandise” is free of charge.

Keeping Open Data open and free of charge is an important part of this model:

  • It brings a user base to the site that may at some point turn into subscribers, either to the pro account or some of the premium data;
  • It means that users have plenty of free content to realize the value of our tool and know what to expect if they buy into it; and last but not least…
  • …it makes the public sector data providers far more positive to our approach than if we’d be hiding their data behind a paywall.

I’ll tell anybody, and in fact I’ve told our investors repeatedly that I’m not sure if we’ve yet found exactly the right model. But what I do know is that if we – as an “industry” – cannot soon prove to governments and the fantastic people working on this in the public sector that their Open Data efforts are worth while, there will be a backlash in both funding and interest.

The field of Open Data and data markets is taking off and the promised revolution will come, but it may be delayed a few years if we don’t take “The Business of Open Data” seriously.

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