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OKCon 2011: Introduction and a Look to the Future

June 30, 2011 in OKCon, Open Data, Talks

This is a blog post by Rufus Pollock, co-Founder and Director of the Open Knowledge Foundation.

OKCon, the annual Open Knowledge Conference kicked off today and it’s been great so far. For those not here in Berlin with us you can follow main track talks via video streaming: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/open-knowlegde

Below are my slides from my introductory talk which gives an overview of the Foundation and its activities and then looked to what the challenges are for the open data community going forward.

Looking to the Future

The last several decades the world has seen an explosion of digital technologies which have the potential to transform the way knowledge is disseminated.

This world is rapidly evolving and one of its more striking possibilities is the creation of an open data ecosystem in which information is freely used, extended and built on.

The resulting open data ‘commons’ is valuable in and of itself, but also, and perhaps even more importantly, because the social and commercial benefits it generates — whether in helping us to understand climate change; speeding the development of life-saving drugs; or improving govenance and public services.

In developing this open data ecosystem there are three key things are needed: material, tools and people. This is a key point: open information without tools and communities to utilise it is not enough, after all, openness isn’t an end itself – open material has no value if it isn’t used.

We need therefore to have widely available the capabilities for utilising open material, for processing, analysing and sharing it, especially on a large scale. Relevant tools need to be freely and openly available and the related infrastructure — after all tools need somewhere to run, and data needs somewhere to be stored — should be capable of effective deployment by distributed communities.

Over the last few years we’ve started to see increasing amounts of open material made available, with release of open data really starting to take off in the last couple of years.

But the (open) tools and the communities to use them are still very limited — we’re just starting to see the first self-identified “data wranglers / data hackers / data scientists” (note how the terms have not settled yet!).

Key architectural elements of the ecosystem, such as how we create and share data in an open componentized way, are only just beginning to be worked through.

We are therefore at a key moment where we transition from just ‘getting the data’ (and building the app) to a real data ecosystem in which data is transformed, shared and reintegrated and we replace a ‘data pipeline’ with ‘data cycles’.

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