As a I wrote a couple of days ago, the current flood of open data announcements, notably by the UK government, is something of a two-edged sword. It's great to have, but it also imposes a correspondingly great responsibility to do something useful with it.
Interestingly, this isn't just my view, but also that of someone who has probably done more to make open data happen in the UK than anyone else: Tom Steinberg, who was the driving force behind key sites like WriteToThem and FixMyStreet. Here's something he said last week in a speech to open data hackers:
FixMyStreet is no Facebook, but it is a real service that makes a real difference to a significant number of people people who would be really sad if it went away. There are too few projects like this because it is so much easier to make a nice maps mashup, or a cool graph. But it is a steady stream of this sort of service, both commercial and not for profit, that will achieve the goal of making the cessation of open data releases unthinkable.
I particularly liked the following section:
For the forseeable future we should adopt the approach of someone who is trying to woo a rather unconvinced lover. Their friends – risk averse public servants and lobbyists – keep telling them that they should dump us and get on with the wooing someone more worth while (the deficit, or china), and that this open data toy-boy is just a shiny distraction with good cheekbones. We need to keep showing up with flowers and kind deeds (ie success stories) to show that we are worth not kicking out of bed. The academic research community could do a huge job here, focussing their efforts in the near term in better understandings of what sort of value open data is starting to create.
But perhaps the most intriguing idea in his speech is the following:
"Aren't you in favour of as much open data as possible?" My answer is simple: No, not at the moment – I don't think any government anywhere is really up to it yet. In fact, right now, I think it is a rather dangerous idea.
It's an important post in an increasingly hot area – well-worth reading.