The Success of #OpenData Portals is Not the Data, But The #Community Around It.

It Started With A Tweet

Between bouts of Beechams Powders I had been glancing over some of the open data NI tweets….  then I said this.

Which prompted this kinda of response….


So I thought I’d better come back and expand on what I meant, Twitter is not good for everything especially when you’re mentioning respected peers.

Open Data is a Means To An End, Not an End In Itself

While startups suffer from the “build it and they will come” syndrome we all know deep down that it rarely happens. The same is applicable to open data, just because it was published there’s the looming reality that it won’t attract anyone to use it. It’s no criticism of the portal, the people who’ve put the work in and those who have the responsibility of running it. It’s called “life”.

The challenge is getting people interested to do something with the data. While you can put a hackathon together (Kainos run good ones from what I can tell) that’s only the beginning, because the longevity of open data initiatives is what happens after the iPad and Oculous Rift prizes have been handed out. It’s about curious people wanting to things with the data available in their own space and time.

This means regular meetups with developers to do something for the public good. This was attempted with the likes of code4pizza (something that Matt Johnston and others worked hard to bring to reality in 2011), you bring your skills and they’ll bring the pizza. It was a great trade off and I saw some great applications.

Companies and maker spaces (like the excellent Farset Labs) who can hold these regular meet ups (and should be aided with shouldering the cost) will ultimately show the ability and insight of the open data that’s available to Northern Ireland.

Showing Examples

While it’s great to have the data available it’s pretty useless without code examples, and even Excel spreadsheet examples, to show how to do things with the data available. Open data without examples is like handing over a bunch of ingredients without a recipe. While you can stick put something together nothing beats a bunch of examples.

Like I said previously, my current employer MastodonC open sources as much code as it possibly can. You want to pull Met Office Data and plug it into Hecuba, well we open sourced that. Oh and Hecuba is open sourced too.

Ultimately we need the WOW factor, “I’m doing some cool schizz with this data”.

Open Data is a Social Movement, Not Only a Business One

For government open data is a positive PR opportunity and while it’s taken a while to get there, it is there. The road map looks good but, like I said earlier, they cannot stop at the, “we built it, now go and use it” but need to support and nurture the developer and startup community to make use of what’s available.

It’s not about training data scientists or data journalists, that’s looking back historically about what’s happened, the joy of open data is attempting to predict what’s next.

The world needs only so many infographics on historical events, open data should be about working out the future for the positive.

Now go on, amaze me. The response we want from the community, business and the executive on what we can collectively do with the data is this….


It’s just hard to convey in 140 characters…..

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