Seven Resources for Learning About Open Data

Loraine Lawson

I recently interviewed someone in the data/application integration space recently and asked for that person’s opinion on open data.

He didn’t know what it was or, at least, he didn’t know off the top of his head during an interview that was actually about something totally different.

So, at best, open data is not something we immediately recognize, even though it offers serious business potential. Basically, open data is any set of data that’s open for you to use, without concerns about copyright and all that legal stuff. Generally, it’s data collected by a government agency, but it doesn’t have to be: There are international agencies that offer open datasets as well, and you are certainly free to release your own datasets.

Much of this information is just sitting there, waiting for someone to make smart and, governments hope, profitable use of it.


And yet, many people don’t know about it. Part of that is because the datasets are actually fairly limited so far and not always “business-ready.”

But the data is free. And some of this data is actually very valuable. In fact, entrepreneurs are already turning some datasets into a business model. Innovators like Google and Zillow have put open datasets to use to enhance existing services or create new ones.

To help you get started with open data, I’ve put together a list of seven great open data resources.

The Open Data Field Guide. This is an amazing eight-chapter virtual book that covers everything from explaining what open data is to developing an open data policy and launching your first project. It was created by Socrata, a company that specializes in social media and open data, so there are lots of prompts to contact someone from Socrata. However, the information is solid. The book includes both text and video, and plenty of links to open data resources and samples.

The Open Data Institute. This is a non-profit group founded by Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Professor Nigel Shadbolt, and it’s secured £10 million over five years from the UK government, plus $750,000 from Omidyar Network. Part of the ODI’s mission is to provide help and funding for start-ups, but the website is a great resource for all things open data, even if you’re not in the UK. It includes news, upcoming events, training resources, consultants and case studies.

Alpha.data.gov. This prototype was developed at the behest of the White House, which was disappointed with how many people didn’t know about the federal government’s open data efforts. It highlights the best use cases for open data projects, including a number that involve innovative new businesses or services. It’s organized around seven areas: Commerce, Health, Education, Energy, Global Development, Finance and Safety. It was created by a team of presidential innovation fellows; you can learn more about the team’s other projects at GitHub.

Data.gov and data.gov/consumer. Now that you know what can be done with open data, and a little bit about how to use it, how do you get started? Check out Data.gov and data.gov/consumer, both of which are federal sites. Data.gov includes links to federal open datasets, including 373,029 raw and geospatial datasets, but it also offers links to citizen-developed data tools, mobile apps and even allows you to submit suggestions for datasets. If you clink on the Semantic Web link on the bottom of the page, you can even submit requests for government data that should be made available by APIs. Data.gov/consumer is obviously more consumer-focused, and includes information about Smart Disclosure initiatives, which basically focus on providing people with easy access to consumer awareness information, including data about food and safety, the Energy Star program, insurance, population, housing and so on. If you’re in the UK, check out the open data portal, Data.gov.uk/linked-data.

Alex Howard’s series on O’Reilly Radar. I discussed this series in yesterday’s blog post on the potential of open data, but it’s worth sharing again. Howard is exploring the “Open Data economy,” and he’s covered many of the issues around open data, including how government agencies can achieve an ROI, the business value of open data, and interviews with open data analysts and experts.

Capgemini Consulting’s The Open Data Economy report. This free paper offers research on the economic impact of open data in countries that created open data portals. It includes case studies, but it also includes an analysis of the benefits and costs of open data initiatives for the nations that have launched them. A good read if you’re in government or concerned about the open data as a public policy effort.

Twitter. This may seem obvious, but since open data is so seldom covered, Twitter is one of the best ways to quickly find news and resources. You can search using the hash tag, #opendata, but here are a few feeds to get you started:

•         @ProjectOpenData. This is the feed for the presidential innovation fellows.

•         Luke Fretwell, who writes for FedScoop, sometimes shares tweets about open data.

•         Alex Howard, who is covering open data for  O’Reilly Radar.

•         @LoraineLawson. That’s me. No, I am not an open data expert, but I’ll be retweeting open data stories and will share any relevant new feeds or resources that I find.



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