Open data lessons learned at international conference

Thursday - 11/18/2010, 6:07pm EST

Alexander B. Howard, Washington Correspondent, O'Reilly Media

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Plenty of excitement and innovative ideas were shared between hundreds data experts from around the world at the 2010 International Open Government Data Conference in Washington, D.C. this week.

"It's interesting to see how many voices there are now joining the discussion around open data," said Alex Howard, Washington correspondent at O'Reilly Media, who was on hand at the conference. "There's really a great deal of excitement about what's possible right now and what's being done, not just about what could be."

There are seven countries that have stood up open data platforms so far, said Howard, which he calls impressive growth.

"They're all talking to each other and learning from one another and of course internet enables that kind of conversation and community and sharing of best practices." Howard said. "It's interesting to see how that has really enabled some cross pollination and even a little bit of friendly competition across the Atlantic."

Data.gov is the Office of Management and Budget's flagship program for an open and transparent government. After its inception, the United Kingdom launched its data.gov.uk - that was followed by Canada, New Zealand, Australia, France and Finland.

The hallway conversations "were pretty hot" Howard said about the esoteric conversations going on about the science of data and lessons learned between international partners. Some of the buzz at the event was centered around open linked data, which would allow user to see the data sources associated with web pages among other things.

A main focus was centered on the translation of vast amounts of government data into easy-to-use applications, widgets, maps and other features.

The topic of balancing privacy and greater utility was also central, especially in terms of electronic health records.

There's no one saying that personally identifiable information needs to go online, that citizens need to have that kind of radical transparency about their health records. At the same time there are now significant efforts...at the Veteran's administration, in a good sense, where they're allowing veteran's download data about themselves, electronic health records, which they can then take around to their various appointments. And that kind of movement where you have public -private partnerships that enable more efficient, more effective technology use are frankly growing.

Most of the big web 2.0 companies use data as their "secret sauce," Howard said, including facebook, amazon, LinkedIN, google. And the issue of data portability -- i.e. who owns the data and what you can do with it -- is an important one for governments which are some of the biggest providers of raw data in the world.

The conference launched an Open Data Community page on data.gov where attendees can continue to connect and share ideas on best practices, security and openness, and policies for international data sharing.

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