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Open Data: Get to know our ant hill


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TedxZwolle keynote on open data, and understanding the complexity of our world.

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Open Data: Get to know our ant hill

  1. 1. OPEN DATAget to know our ant hill by Ton Zijlstra 12 March 2013
  2. 2. For years as a kid and teenager, I was an amateur radio enthusiast, building radios and usingthem to connect to other people and places. In the photo you see the simplest radio possible:a single piece of wire, just 5 components, and it doesn’t even need a battery.Once a year I participated in the annual Jamboree On The Air, at a scouting club here in thiscity Zwolle. It was so exciting, experiencing all those connections, sensing this globalnetwork.As a kid I was already fascinated by how everything could be connected to everything. If onlyyou had the tools, like radio, and ability to actually see it and do it.In school and elsewhere I was usually told everything had its own place, but the fascinationwith how everything and everyone could be connected remained. And then the internet anddigitization happened. It connected us on an unprecedented scale. And it pushed new toolsin to the hands of us as individuals.
  3. 3. Since then I am very interested in what happens when you connect people who wereunconnected before, and where new tools reach the hands of individuals. New tools likeinternet, social media etc, which enable us all to do things better, do it differently, or dothings at all. Today I’d like to talk to you about one of those new instruments: Open Data.I’d like to talk to you about three thingswhat open data is, and how it can be usedwhy our societies need open data, andwhy YOU want to be involved.
  4. 4. How & What it’s it is usedOpen Data is a very versatile thing. It can be used for an enormous variety of purposes andapplications. I will show you a few examples.
  5. 5. In Denmark it is open data that drives this website to improve the energy efficiency of yourhome. It takes open data from government sources, and provides you with a plan specificallyfor your home, including financing options, and a list of builders who can do the work.
  6. 6. At the same time, Open Data is used to provide people in Kenya with better access to healthcare and medical information. From identifying symptoms and finding out if your doctor islicensed, to where to get treatment.
  7. 7. cleaning up Slovenia Foto: Slavica IsovskaIn Slovenia open data is used to help clean up the country. This map of all illegal dump sitesin Slovenia is only possible because of the availability of open data. Groups of citizens usethis to plan cleaning up actions.
  8. 8. That are just three random examples of thousands and thousands of applications where opendata is being used. So what is this OPEN DATA, that can do all that? Open data is data thatwas collected, often by governments, for some task or other, and that then is published foreveryone to make use of afterwards as well. Open data is public data that is published for allto use freely, without technical, legal or financial barriers. Because of digitization andinternet, opening up data has become easy and cheap to do.
  9. 9. open data stimulates innovationRemoving barriers to public data, and allowing others to use it, opens up the low end ofmarkets and opens new areas of activity. That is where innovation starts, that is where newvalue comes from. Open data allows innovation in unexpected places from unexpectedpeople. That is how open data creates impact.
  10. 10. it indeed already has brought visible economic impact around the world. That impactalso happens to be the reason the European Union is promoting open government data withlaws and regulation: there is a socio-economic potential of 140 Billion Euro’s, or 2% of GDP inEurope.That 140 Billion will be composed of many different small impacts, by individuals andcompanies around Europe. It will be composed of work by you and me.
  11. 11. 109 portals in Europe group/eu-officialBecause of this potential, and because of transparency, governments across Europe areopening up the public data they have. Since the fall of 2009, when the UK governmentlaunched their data portal (, to last month when Germany did the same(, over 100 local, regional and national government data portals have beencreated. This includes the European Commission, and also for instance the Dutchgovernment.
  12. 12. “tackling societal issues with open data” data.overheid.nlThe Netherlands explicitly connects opening up data to helping solve societal issues. Such asimproving socially disadvantaged city neighborhoods, and coping with the impact of regionalshrinkage, in regions where people are moving away.
  13. 13. In short, there is an untapped abundance waiting inside government and other organisations,an abundance of data that if made open would be of huge value to society. Data that wascollected for 1 task, but as Open Data may prove useful for other things. By opening up weallow those other things to become possible. The process of opening up all of that data hasonly just started, but in time we will move to the situation where everything that can be madepublic will be made public by default.
  14. 14. Why society needs itThe abundance open data promises is of course great but there is a more compelling reasonwhy our societies really need it. Why it’s not a nice to have but a need to have.
  15. 15. networked society makes ‘open’ a necessityWe live in a networked society, and networks thrive on sharing and openness. Nodes thatdon’t share don’t exist to the network. You are only connected if you share. Openness istherefore a key aspect of a networked society. That is why you hear not just about open data,but also open access, open source, open knowledge, open manufacturing, open hardware andopen design. Open data, is part of the Open Everything that is a necessary feature of anetworked society.
  16. 16. open OPEN data vs DATASo the key thing in Open Data is not the data, it is the Openness. It is easy to assume thatopen data is interesting because of the data. After all it is the content of the data that makesapplications possible.Data has been around for a long time, it’s the openness that is important. It is the fact that allof us can have access to open data that is the key thing. That you and I now have access toall that data for our daily tasks and the issues we encounter.
  17. 17. the same time our fully networked society, because of all the connections and feed backloops, also creates much more complexity.Our world has become one giant connected ant hill. Where everything has impact oneverything else.
  18. 18. new tools like Open Data, it is impossible for us as individuals, to understand ourworld. Much like a single ant has no perception of how its own actions help create thecomplexity of the ant hill, without tools like Open Data we can have no perception of thecomplexity of our world.Open data will help us cope with that complexity.
  19. 19. Opening up data allows us to see complex issues in a different light. And see ourenvironment in new ways. We are for instance accustomed to seeing cities, like this here inAmsterdam, from our own singular perspective. And it tells us little about the city as a whole.It is the perspective of a single ant.
  20. 20. open data we all get a whole new perspective. This is also Amsterdam, and it shows uswhere tourists are taking pictures (in red), and where inhabitants do so (in blue). A newinsight into places worth seeing and lively parts of town emerges. We all can see the shape ofthe ant hill.Open Data in large volumes is different therefore. It’s not just more data for more people, itprovides us a completely different perspective on our situation and our issues.
  21. 21. Hans Rosling in his original talk at TED said that we need to better understand our world byrecognizing the complex picture that data tells us, and it still holds true. All of us need accessto the data of all issues that concern us. We need open data in the hands of everybody to beable to deal with the increased complexity of our daily lives. If a lot of people feel powerlessin our complex societies, it is because they lack the tools to act and the tools to understandtheir environment. Open Data increases our understanding and our ability to act.
  22. 22. If we want to take on poverty, the cost of health care, food safety, the financial system, theeconomic crisis, ageing and all those other issues we’re facing, we, as individual citizensneed a more complete understanding of the connected data. We need that data as OPEN data.Every ant needs to know in detail how the ant hill works.
  23. 23. Why you need to be involvedAnd that leads us to why you need to be involved
  24. 24. ant needs to know how the ant hill works.That is why across the world, groups of interested people are starting to learn to use opendata, like in this picture in Bologna. Because developing the skills to use and understand opendata is crucial.Just a few weeks ago was International Open Data Day. In over 100 cities world wide groupsof people came together to work on data and create applications. I happened to be in Warsawthat day and joined over 50 Polish people to work on open data.In the past few years I have visited dozens and dozens of these events. Most of the peopleyou meet there are not traditionally involved with using data. But they see Open Data as anopportunity to solve problems that they face. And they want to learn how to do that.
  25. 25. Networked life, eat safe to networked work, networked learningwhether it is to find safe restaurants in New York and prevent food poisoning by building anapp that tells you how clean a restaurant is you are walking into.
  26. 26. or finding a good parking space in Amsterdam that is cheap and within walking distance fromwhere you need to be.
  27. 27. or figuring out where you can go with a wheel chair in Berlin, by using Wheelmap to seeinformation on accessibility.
  28. 28. and whether it is tracking the connections between every single company in the world
  29. 29. or visualizing how every euro in every government is spent
  30. 30. your problem new waysIn all these cases, someone had a problem in their own life, small or big, that they wanted tosolve, got their hands on the data, and found a new way of solving their problem.
  31. 31. And that is what we all should do. Finding new ways to solve issues you face, using opendata. That takes an effort by all of us. An effort to learn how to do this, to acquire the skillswe need.
  32. 32. Already there are many free tools out there for you to work with open data to build solutions.To help you program, to help you clean up data, to help you build applications. So you do notneed to start from scratch, and you can get started quickly. There’s nothing to hold you backto get started right now.
  33. 33.’t become an ant, learn to understand the anthill. Get involved. Use Open Data.Understand your world.
  34. 34. Creditsall photos and slides cc-by Ton Zijlstraexcept where sourcementioned on photo 12 March 2013