Are we in an Open Data crisis? And who can help us out? Find out in this video (6 minute video)


Are we really in an open data crisis? Do we really need usability to make open data sustainable?

Let us think about it for a little bit... if you are like many of us living in this open data bubble, thinking that everything is fine, there are tousend of open data portals out there, lot of dataset been publish, etc... you would be surprised about some news like:

“open data platform the answer to a question no one asked? Data is public but no one has a use for it!, or “I hate open data portals” because there are so uncomfortable to use! “Open data: where is the business case?” Because we all need to pay our rent, our meals... So how can you earn money with open data?

And... if we keep thinking about it, maybe usability is the “hero” that is going to save us in this crisis!

So, to better understand this problem let's start from the beginning... what is open data? Take the Open Definition: “Open data and content can be freely used, modified, and shared by anyone for any purpose”... but if we think more careful about this definition... that is not really what open data is... that is HOW open data is... so, let us try another angel. Maybe we can actually find some examples about what open data is...:

the first one, the most famous and probably biggest example is Wikipedia, which is an encyclopaedia written by the same people who read it, everyone can participate, everyone can write new articles, correct articles, in summary the best example of open data by pure community effort!

The second one, and not so famous like Wikipedia, is open streetmap. This is a community of people who map the world, people who create open maps of the world, that everyone can use and also everyone can update.

And finally, there are a lot of open data government portals out there like for example, or das Datenportal für Deuschland, and that is where public administration can publish their open data.

Let us have a look at that now, how is really looks like in the real world... let's pick for example the Irish one:, and it looks great, doesn't it?... we have more than 4000 datasets, now to continue with our journey, we would like to do some research about charities.

First we need to look for actual open data, because quite of few of the datasets in the portal are not open data, even though it is called open data portal; but, not all that glitters is gold... so, let us search for creative common licenses and we are going to find 4339 results, that is not bad... so, let's have a look at the first one: “Benefacts" that is looking good: it should be a database of all Irish Charities, so let go into it... ups... oh, no! “deleted resource”

“This resource has been deleted”.

And as you can see, that is one of the problem that we right now have with open data portals. There are many cases where you need to be a bit of an expert to know how to find data in the portals and of course, you need to know that there is a portal, and you need to know how to search for data there...

Aral Balkan came up with a great comparison: open data right now is “open” as a door. Why? Because a door can be closed any time, today is open, tomorrow who knows...! it als means that someone has the power to close this door, and we the users stay out in the cold.

There are more examples like this: in Canada a few years ago the tories got to power and they decided not to have database about weapons any more, so they just deleted the databases, and now all the data is gone, it was open data and now it is gone!

Another example is when the US could not get the budget through and their open data portal just close down for few weeks.

To make things even worse: there is no security for authenticity of open data, and Open data is seen as additional costs. And last but not least important, the little use that user are finding in it!

For all this reasons open data really is in a crisis! And at the end... you could ask me: why should we care? So, we are going to tell you, you should care because knowledge is power. Access to weather data allows you to decide what are you going to take with you: umbrella? Jacket?, if you are going on vacations, you may be interested where are the most beautiful cities... the most dangerous places, etc... for democracy, you need to know who you should vote for, what the candidate has been doing in the past.

And in general, if you do not have access to the data you cannot do inform decision, so open data is all about empowering people to make inform decisions.

Open data should be seen as infrastructure for democracy and that is of course good for our societies. Infrastructures like roads are also nice examples of very simple and successful usability.

so, how can you help us?