Creative, unforeseen uses of local Open Data increase

(this page is part of my 2011 report on “Open Data: Emerging trends, issues and best practices”. Please follow that link to reach the Introduction and Table of Content, but don’t forget to also check the notes for readers! of the initial report of the same project, “Open Data, Open Society”)

Proofs that, as cited in the Open Data, Open Society report, “Data is like soil”, that is valuable not in itself, but because of what grows on it, often in ways that the landowner couldn’t imagine, continue to arrive. Here is an example from Day Two: Follow the Data, Iterating and the $1200 problem:

_Ed Reiskin noticed a problem with street cleaning. Some trucks would go out, coming back with little or no trash depending on the day and route they took. After getting the tonnalge logs, his team quickly realized that changing certain routes and reducing service on others would save money (less gas, parts, labor) and the environment (less pollution, gas consumption, water). A year later, the department realized a little over a million dollars in savings. The point? **Follow the data**_.

The value embedded in data isn’t only economical or political, but also social. Here are a few examples.

At the Amsterdam fire brigade, once a fire alarm starts, all sorts of data is collected, to maximize the probabilities to save lives and property, about the location and the route to the emergency: constructions on the way, latest updates from Openstreetmap, the type of house and if possible more data such as construction dates, materials, people living there and so on.

Using the geographical coordinates embedded in online photo databases like Flickr, digital cartographer Eric Fischer creates maps that highlight people behavior. For example, he documented how, in Berlin, most locals tend to stay in the same neighborhoods and don’t go to West Berlin or to the outskirts of the city. This information has economic value, journalist Kayser-Bril noted: “You can then sell this for instance to businessmen who want to open a shop in Berlin for tourists, and telling them where to go and where not to go."

Norwegian transport company Kolumbus has embedded 1,200 bus stops with barcodes in the square QR format, that can encode text or URLs. Scanning those codes with a free software application for smartphones loads a website that lists upcoming bus departure times. Later, Kolumbus partnered with a project called “Tales of Things” to allow people to leave messages for each other (or just for the world) at the bus stops. Scanning the QR code now allows people to see not just the bus timetable, but also the notes other travelers have left on that stop, including “what’s nearby, who’s waiting for whom, what number can you call for a good time. It’s a cross between bus stop Facebook and digital graffiti”, that happened thanks to the openness of the original bus stop data.

The Social Life of Data Project will study instead how particular datasets have been used, who used them, how those people are connected and what conversations happen around Open Data.