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New Working Group: Open Product Data

October 8, 2013 in Featured, WG Open Product Data

The biggest open product database in world joins Open Knowledge Foundation and you can get involved!

We vote with our wallet everyday, but are rarely aware of everything we endorse through our purchases. Product supply chains are complex, our ethical preferences are diverse and in practice we, as consumers, do not have the time or knowledge to make fully informed purchasing decisions. That is why we need build new tools, tools that empower us with the information we need to make purchasing decisions that are right for us, our families and our community; only then can we truly vote with our wallet. The newest Open Knowledge Foundation working group is doing just that. We are building the consumer tools of the future and changing the consumer experience.

Barcodes are the key to unlocking the potential of product data. For over 40 years, GS1 has contributed to the standardisation of barcodes across the world. GS1 assigns manufacturers a GCP (Global Company Prefix) code, which is used by the company to generate unique identification numbers for all their products (the GTIN code or barcode). As a result, GTIN codes are a unique and standardised identifier for the vast majority of products sold across the world.

There is just one problem: product data is public but not open. Manufacturers assign a GS1 GTIN code to each of their products and they print this code on the packaging, meaning that GTIN codes are publicly available. However, they do not provide a digital catalogue of all their products meaning GTIN codes are not open.

A database containing the GTIN codes, in addition to other product identifiers such as the GLN (Global Location Number) and GPC (Global Product Classification), is a crucial first step in developing the consumer tools of the future. Opening up product data can:

  1. Empower Consumers by allowing third parties to build applications that provide consumers with the information they need to make smart purchasing decisions. From applications that provide consumers with information about the allergens contained in certain foods to applications that calculate and compare the air miles or carbon footprint of similar products, using barcodes in combination with other data allows for countless applications to be built that will inform and empower consumers.
  2. Improve Efficiency by helping humanitarian organisations, charities and food banks manage their supply of donated products or providing individuals with information about how and where to recycle a product according to local ordinances and their location.
  3. Generate Economic Growth and Innovation by creating an entirely new channel of communication for discovering and discussing products. Imagine simply scanning a barcode and seeing product advertisements, seeing customer reviews, seeing suggested recipes and so on, all in real time.

Product Open Data (POD), founded by Philippe Plagnol, represents the first step in opening up product data. Philippe, working independently on the database since November 2012, has begun building a product database that currently contains over one million product GTIN numbers (of which 400,000 are already matched to their brand, GCP and GPC), over 600,000 images and 4,000 brands, all open for anyone to use, reuse and redistribute. Philippe has proved that a product database is possible, we are building a community to make it scalable.

The Open Product Data Working group will provide a new home for POD and a space for a community of builders, thinkers and advocates to come together and share, discuss, learn and create. Join us on our mailing list, start contributing on GitHub, find out more at product.okfn.org and follow us on twitter @openproductdata.

Eugène Delacroix, “la liberté guidant le peuple”, 1830 – redesigned by Jessica Dere

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