Open Data – what it is and why it is important?

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“Open data is the idea that some data should be freely available to everyone to use and republish as they wish, without restrictions from copyright, patents or other mechanisms of control.” This is Wikipedia’s short definition for Open data, and they themselves are an open data example.

The concept of open data is not new – the Internet was initially created for data sharing. Alas the definition is relatively new and has emerged due to larger amounts of data being locked up by corporations. This data is waiting to be converted into value, but for private gain.

What are the potential benefits from Open Data?

Cost savings in research and engineering is the obvious answer, since research projects are very costly and time consuming, they usually achieving only partial success. By freely sharing data, different organizations can progress faster by building on top of previous work, thus sharing research costs and cutting delivery times.

Imagine the huge steps if we shared most of the data form worldwide research in the domains of healthcare, ecology, transportation, energy, agriculture, urban development, etc.

The good news is we are heading that way. A declaration has been signed by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries for opening the data resulting from publicly funded projects.

Governments are another leading open data provider, presenting a portion of the data they collect to the public. In recent years, many governments have taken up this initiative.

Of course there are inherent or hidden risks in Open data and it should be approached and treated with caution, since personal or sensitive data could be exposed. This issue should be addressed by diligently identifying and obfuscating data that is not intended for a general audience.

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