Real world examples of Open PSI at work

(this page is part of my Open Data, Open Society report. Please follow that link to reach the introduction and Table of Content, but don’t forget to check the notes to readers!)

This section of the report describes the main characteristics and potential usage of some of the most useful categories of raw PSI. Whenever available, we also present one or more success stories of useful services and profitable local businesses made possible just by the openness of those data.

Geographical data (maps, land usage, cadaster and addresses)

Who draws and controls the maps controls how other people see the world. Mapping Hacks, O’Reilly.

Geographic data from elevations to addresses are _”the first metaphor with which to represent reality.”_ They are essential analysis and decision tools. Erroneous or incomplete geographic data lead to inefficiencies, errors and, in cases like an ambulance not finding injured people, loss of lives. Geographical data also describe and detect position and status of hydro-geological risks as well as protected areas, wildlife, fishery and forestry resources. Their importance has been already discussed in several papers and websites, from Free Our (spatial) Data to a Canadian Government sponsored study. Geographical data are particularly important also because they add very important context and meaning, that is much value, to practically any other kind of PSI. Knowing that in some province the occurrence of some disease is higher than average is good. Seeing on a map that all cases happened very close to some particular type of soil or industrial facilities, that is connecting just through their location two otherwise unrelated groups of raw data, is much better. Especially when we think that, if all data are open, such linking can be made quickly and automatically via software that everybody with the right skills could write and use!

A first form of collaborative civic service based just on geographic data is Open311, a standardized technology usually adopted to report, track and fix problems in public spaces and infrastructures like potholes, broken streetlights, garbage or vandalism. When somebody enters photos and description of some problem occurring at a given location, the report is automatically assigned to the public department that should fix it, while the status of the problem is continuously updated online, to monitor the effectiveness of that department.

Until 2002 in Denmark, the official address database was practically inaccessible: users had to make an agreement on prices and terms with each municipality. The bureaucracy was complex enough that some companies had developed alternative collections of addresses even though the public sector already had the best possible data. Following an agreement in that year, everybody could order municipal address data via a public server by just paying distribution costs. A study performed in spring 2010 concluded that the direct benefits of free-of-charge data for the five years 2005-2009 can be estimated at about EUR 62 million and the total value of all distributed address datasets can be calculated to EUR 76 million. This figure includes the savings for private enterprises and municipalities made possible by not having anymore to negotiate, license and delivery data between them (municipalities’ savings were calculated at about EUR 5 million from 2005-2009). The analysis doesn’t include the supplementary financial benefits arising from more efficient emergency services and simplified managements of one data collection, with no more duplicates.

Goolzoom is a profitable local business built in Spain just on the free availability of (mainly geographical) PSI. Goolzoom started in December 2006 as a research tool to help people looking for a home, or land management, agriculture and real estate professionals to get many information about land parcel or specific buildings in one view.

As of June 2010, Goolzoom not only displays cadastral or Google maps, but can integrate them in one view with about 200 other different kind of maps, published by local or central public administrations and all accessible online through the Web Map Service (WMS) standard. Building Goolzoom was made possible by the Inspire European directive, that recommends public administrations to make the data available using common standards. The Goolzoom business model is based on premium access (printable maps, export maps to image format, and brochures with different maps for a single place) and advertising for casual users. In the first months of 2010 Goolzoom had around 250.000 visits /month, 120.000 absolute unique users and 80.000 expected billing in 2010.