Monday, November 19, 2012

What is the problem with open data initiatives?

Many countries, including Sweden and Estonia, have started open data initiatives in the last couple of years. The goal of these initiatives is to open up publicly owned data for enterpreneurs who can develop services on them and well... make money. However, the success of these initiatives has been only moderate until now. I think the highest success has been with services offering public transport route planning and similar, but mostly the services are more or less only interesting toys. So why is the success moderate? I see several reasons for that:
- The data being opened (for free) is usually commercially un-interesting. It is not the citizen or business registrys that you get access to for free.
- Consumers in general are not willing to pay anything for e-services. It is the businesses that make money with e-services and who are also willing to pay for them.
- The institutions themself, like for example Stockholms Lokaltrafik and also Google, provide very good services on the original data and it is virtually impossible to compete with them.

So what to do? How to give life into the overall idea of open data?
 I think the answer is to change the overall notion into providing valuable data, for a fee, to organizations who have legal rights for that. This idea gets also much better if you put it into EU context. I am sure that:

- The Finnish State would be happy to pay much more than the IT integration costs if the Finnish police would get through the X-Road platorm access to the Estonian car registry. And it would also be a win-win situation for the citizens of both countries. (Well if we don't count in Estonian car owners who don't follow parking rules in Finland)

- if you move to another country and want to buy a broadband connection, cable-TV or maybe take a bank-loan then the telco's and banks would be happy to pay for a query to your previous homelands income tax database to check if you are economically viable. You would also be happy to give them that access.

- businesses would be happy to pay for data like addresses, infrastructure maps, people and business data.

So there is lot to win in the open data area. But to make it happen we should focus on more valuable data and the legal and security questions to make it available for the right and only the right parties.

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