I attended a great seminar yesterday organised by the Irish Software Association on the business possibilities for open data. The room was packed and we got some very good presentations followed by an interesting panel discussion. As a result of this discussion I got a pointer to an excellent EU funded research report that there was almost always a new benefit to a government from either eliminating charges for access to public sector data or reducing the price to a cost recovery level. Similarly, a recent report from Deloitte suggests that open data will be one of the main mechanisms that will enable a recovery from our recent economic woes.
I think this is very timely that this seminar was held in the week leading up to the Dublin Science Hackday, because I am sure many of the Hacks delivered at this event will probably use some of the open public data.
Here are two of the three presentations delivered (I don't have soft copy of the slides delivered by Maurice Lynch of Nathean Technologies)
This first presentation was by Dominic Byrne and it describes some of the great initiatives being done by Fingal county council to promote open government data. I must admit I was initially skeptical when I saw the relatively limited number of feeds cataloged on the Fingal Open Data web site when it launched, but time has proven that it was the correct policy to launch with what was available and then subsequently concentrate on improving it. This is a wonderful local initiative, the only concern I have is that we must not let local initiatives like this blind us to the fact that the real power of open data is its global reach. For example, when I looked for a mobile phone application for DublinBikes, I found that there were no applications written exclusively for DublinBikes but lots of applications written for city bike rental schemes which could be configured to work with bike rental schemes in many different cities including Dublin. From looking at the web sites associated with these applications I noticed that many of them were initially developed for a specific city that the developer was familiar with, but then they soon realized that they could easily broaden the appeal of their app by making it configurable to work with similar bike rental systems elsewhere.
This second presentation was by Jonathan Raper, whose company Placr has made a great business out of exploiting Open Data in the UK. Both during his presentation and during the subsequent panel discussion, he shared some of the lessons he learned from the struggle to promote open access to public data in the UK. One interesting story he told was about what happened when the London Transport authority realized that many applications were being developed that relied upon a feed that they had accidentally made public. Their IT department initially wanted to shutdown the feed because the popularity of the application meant that too much load was being generated on their infrastructure. However, the mayor was aghast at this suggestion because he saw that there would be a huge political backlash if these popular applications suddenly stopped working. Someone pointed out that this was really an online equivalent of the ancient legal principle of "right of way".