Last month, Cory Doctorow talked with Al Gore, Vint Cerf and Tim Berners-Lee in Mexico City about privacy, freedom, neutrality and democracy in the context of the Internet and the Web. Shaky handheld video is embedded below — the audio is worth tuning in, however, even if the video is a bit jumpy.
Hat tip to Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing, who writes:
We had a wide-ranging discussion, but kept circling back to the threats and promises for the net — copyright wars, privacy wars, government and grassroots. It was a lot of fun, and quite an honor, and I’m happy to see they’ve got the video online.
“Since the United Kingdom and United States movement started, lots of other countries have followed,” said Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web. Canada, New Zealand, Australia, France and Finland are all working on open data initiatives.
As he noted with a smile, the “beautiful race” between the U.S. and U.K. on the Data.gov and Data.gov.uk websites was healthy for both countries, as open data practitioners were able to learn from one another and share ideas. That race was corked off when former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown asked Tim Berners-Lee how the United Kingdom could make the best use of the Internet. When Berners-Lee responded to “put government data on the Web,” Brown assented, and Data.gov.uk was born.
1 Stars for putting data on the Web at all, with an open license. PDFs get 1 star.
2 Stars if it’s machine-readable. Excel qualifies, though Berners-Lee prefers XML or CSVs.
3 Stars for machine-readable, non-proprietary formats
4 Stars if the data is converted into open linked data standards like RDF or SPARQL
5 Stars when people have gone through the trouble of linking it
“The more transparency there is, there more likely there is to be external investment,” said Berners-Lee, highlighting the potential for open government data to make countries more attractive to the global electronic herd.
Will open data spread to more cities, states and countries, as HTML did in the 1990s? If the open standards and technologies that Berners-Lee advocates for are adopted, perhaps. “The Web spread quickly because it was distributed,” said Berners-Lee. “The fact that people could put up Web servers themselves without asking meant it spread more quickly without a centralized mandate.”
Putting open government data to work
Following Berners-Lee, federal CIO Vivek Kundra highlighted how far the open government data movement has come in the short time since President issued his open government memorandum in January 2009.
Kundra remarked that he’s “seeing more and more companies come online” in the 7 countries have embarked on an open government movement that involves democratizing data. He also reeled off a list of statistics to highlight the growth of the Data.gov platfrom.
Within the boundaries of the United States, Kundra observed that 16 states and 9 cities have stood up open data platforms
256 applications have now been developed on top of the Data.gov platform
There are now 305,692 data sets available on Data.gov
Since Data.gov was launched in 2009, it has received 139 million hits.
The rapid growth of open government data initiatives globally suggests that there’s still more to come. “When I look at Data.gov platform and where we are as a global community, we’re still in the very early days of what’s possible,” said Kundra.
He emphasized that releasing open data is not just a means of holding government accountable, focusing three lenses on its release:
Accountability, both inside of government and to citizens
Utility to citizens, where, as Kundra said, “data is used in the lives of everyday people to improve the decisions they makes or services they receive on a daily basis
Economic opportunities created as a results of open data.
“The simple act of opening up data has had a profound impact on the lives of ordinary people,” said Kundra, who pointed to the impact of the Veterans Administration’s Blue Button. Over 100,000 veterans have now downloaded their personal health records, which tundra said has stimulated innovation in blue button readers to connect systems from Google or Microsoft.
“I predict that we’ll have an industry around data curation and lightweight applications,” said Kundra. “The intersection of multiple data sets are where true value lies.” The question he posed to the audience is to consider how the government will move to towards an API-centric architecture that allows services to access data sets on a real-time basis.
When asked about that API strategy and the opportunity costs of pursuing it by open government advocate Harlan Yu, Kundra said that he follows an “80/20” rule when it comes to the government building apps vs third parties. “Do we want to be a grocery store or a restaurant when it comes to the Data.gov platform and movement?” he asked.
As a means of answering that question, Jeanne Holm, the former chief knowledge architect at the NASA Jet Propulsion and current Data.gov evangelist, announced a new open government open data community at Data.gov that will host conversations about the future of the platform.
What do the two technology leaders see as a vision for success for open government data?
For Berners-Lee, it was to be able to directly access data from a dashboard on laptop, rather than indexes and catalogs on Data.gov and data.gov.uk. He talked about accessing open government data that wasn’t just machine-readable or linked to other sets but directly accessed from his local machine, called through powerful Python scribts.
In contrast, Kundra talked about being able to go to a store like Brookstone and “in the same way you can buy alarm clocks with data in the weather channel,” how data from federal agencies had been employed to provision objects from everyday life.
To be fair, there’s a long way to go yet before that vision becomes reality. As Andrew Odewahn pointed out at Radar, earthquakes are HUGE on Data.gov, consistently bringing in the most downloads, even ahead of those product recall data sets. While provisioning recurring visualization in the Popular Mechanics iPad App might be useful to the publisher, it’s also a reminder that the full vision for delivering utility to citizens through open data that Kundra hopes for hasn’t come to fruition as a result of Data.gov – yet.