For whatever reason this will be my first ever post on the Open Data movement on the old c.t.overdrive. To be honest I have no idea why it’s taken me so long to jot down some ideas on this topic, as it has been something that I’ve been actively interested in and championing for a couple of years. But with International Open Data Day in the books and my new(ish) hometown launching an Open Data App contest, I figured it was time to jot down some thoughts.
Alright, so for those of you not familiar with the concept, Open Data is a pretty simple idea:
Open data is the idea that certain data should be freely available to everyone to use and republish as they wish, without restrictions from copyright, patents or other mechanisms of control. (via. Wikipedia)
Essentially, what Open Data boils down to is that every level of government (Federal, Provincial, and Municipal) collects vast amounts of data on a yearly basis. This data, while useful to different elements of government for various strategic reasons, for the most part has been kept away from citizens. But in recent years, as society have started to shift towards the new paradigm of open technology and open source collaboration there has been a massive push from citizens to have governments release this data to the general public.
The goal of the Open Data movement is to work with and push governments at all levels to make this immense amount of information available to the public in various data sets. The idea being that with this data available to the public it can be leveraged by hobbyists, entrepreneurs or tech innovators to create unique tools or solution to help better the lives of everyday citizens – something that most governments don’t have the resources to do. If you want one to picture it in simpler terms, it’s sort of a data nerd’s Field of Dreams philosophy – a mantra of if you release it, they will come concept.
Now The Open Data movement really gained attention in early 2010s, but it first came to my attention from the writings and conversations I had with local Calgary blogger DJ Kelly. In 2009 and 2010, Kelly was one of the first people in Calgary to push for Open Data to be embraced by city council. At the time Open Data experiments in Washington D.C., Vancouver and New York were just breaking ground and starting to open up the world to the possibilities.
Since learning about the concept of Open Data, I’ve had the opportunity to see the diverse levels of acceptance in two Canadian cities, one American city and to also witness the growth of the concept from the periphery. It’s something I’ve been increasingly more interested in different elements of concept start to mature.
From what I can see the Open Data movement in my old hometown has slowly begun to pick-up steam over the past few months. There is a strong and vibrant push from city hall to get a better understanding of the demands of the public for these data sets. And while it doesn’t have as much of a history in Calgary, it does appear to be worming it’s way into the underbelly of the start-up development community. In recent months (and years), start-ups like Fastcab, iHunter App, MediumRare (+!5 mapping Data) and RandomType (Parking Data) leverage a variety of different publicly available data sets to help create unique tools for citizens, but also improve their every day lives. And with the city putting more resources into the concept, I’m pretty confident that community will continue to grow.
My new home of Ottawa actually has a pretty diverse, impressive and thriving open data community. Upon arriving in the city this past fall I came across the uber active Open Data Ottawa collective – a fantastic group of passionate developers working with the city of Ottawa to encourage open data in the city and region. But the beauty of the community is that it has a strong buy-in from the local municipal government. The City of Ottawa itself is openly active in the community, which just launched it’s second annual Apps4Ottawa contest and has actively supported Open Data Ottawa with their annual Open data hackathon this past December. I don’t want to get into comparisons, but it’s fascinating to see the level of commitment and passion from the city (and citizens). It’s an exciting community and I’m looking forward to lending a hand in the future.
So I know I’m sort of rambling, but the open data movement is slowly growing in Canada. It seams as though each region of the country is in different stages of infancy and because of which some strong communities are popping up. Some regions are clearly ahead of others (such as Ottawa and Vancouver), while some are slowly catching up (Calgary and Saskatoon as examples). But in most of the cases, the Open Data movement is slowly growing. In my opinion, the more that governments start to work with citizens and communities, the more likely we’re all going to start reaping the rewards of the Open Data movement.
And if you’re curious as to why I’m interest in this community. It’s actually pretty simple. For me, my interest in the Open Data movement is less about development of specific citizen tools, but the amazing side effect benefits of this movement. For me Open Data is all about the growth of community driven collaboration and the opportunity it opens up for entrepreneurs and hobbyists – it’s that element that gets me excited about Open Data.
So if you’re curious about the Open Data Movement, feel free to get involved – find your local organization, play around with data sets or help organize a local Open Data group. I’ve include a few informative links below to get you exploring:
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