Data wants to be free. Actually, data really really really wants to have a purpose and THEN be free to serve that purpose.
Earlier this year The YellowPages Group, owners of all the data that makes up our Canadian Yellow Pages as well as YellowPages.ca opened up their kimono to anyone interested in building applications on top of their very expensively collected and managed data. YPG had invested in their own application – you couldn’t miss the ads on Canadian television all summer – but, according to Stephane Marceau, they knew they had to open up the data as they just didn’t have the resources to get applications out there fast enough. Leveraging the development community to build software and services on top of their content makes sense for them – it makes them relevant in the digital world while their traditional business, in print, slowly dwindles.
The Yellow Pages aren’t the first to do this as the need for some businesses to shift their revenue models to the reality of this new, more balanced economy push the data doors open. Sometimes this is done as a reaction to what is going on while others are looking for ways to genuinely offer value to their customers.
Municipalities as the open data leaders?
Can companies start learning from the way cities have embraced open data? That’s right, cities like Washington, New York, San Francisco, Toronto, Ottawa and others have begun to embrace the open data movement and it is spreading. The motivations may be different – cities are mostly driven to open data because their budgets don’t compare in size to their ambition – but there is no doubt that they are leading this revolution.
The challenge that cities will face is finding an eager and waiting entrepreneurial community that can take their data and add enough of a layer of value on top of it to make a viable business. There can only be so many applications that show you the closest dog parks or your local public pool schedule. The cities seem to be the early big beneficiary as they have the ability to collect enough information from the applications that are being built and used. This data can then be used to build policy that focuses of fixing the biggest issues identified – think of it as a sort of city-wide services survey. Very valuable.
Should data be free?
This seems to be an eventuality – hoarding data today is like the guy in your office who thinks job security is knowing more and sharing nothing. Freeing data means that entrepreneurs and companies need to elevate their game to add value as it levels the playing field and allows innovation to reign supreme. It also means that products developed with open data need to serve a purpose. Opening up data in mobile today gives us all an opportunity to build the next-generation of location-aware mashups and I for one think this is the right conversation to be having.
What do you think? Is open data the way forward for mobile?