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When open meets personal

Posted on: Wednesday 5th of December 2012

With the explosion in volumes and types of data now being generated and collected it’s not surprising there’s also a proliferation of new data ‘movements’. There’s ‘Big Data’. The Internet of Things. The fast-developing personal data ecosystem.

And, yesterday, Open Data made its mark with a flourish – with the official launch of the Open Data Institute.

The ODI’s stated goal is to “catayse the evolution of an open data culture to create economic, environmental and social value. It will unlock supply, generate demand, create and disseminate knowledge to address local and global issues”.

At the heart of the Open Data movement lies a simple but crucial insight: information collected and used by organisations for their internal operational and reporting purposes can also have external value. Other people may find it useful. In fact, in the scheme of things, it could end up being more useful to outsiders than insiders.

Closely linked is a further insight, that historic ways of collecting and using information – via organizational silos – is incredibly limiting and constraining. It’s a bit like keeping all the ingredients for a cake – flour, sugar, eggs, butter – in separate compartments when their real value can only be realised when they are combined together. Likewise with data. Many of the biggest opportunities come from crunching data from different sources – from creating new combinations and making connections to drive new services.

There’s a particular opportunity at the point where open data and personal data collide: where data about ‘the world out there’ is brought to bear on an individual’s circumstances, goals and activities to help individuals understand their own behaviours better (for example, by making comparisons with people like them), make better decisions and plan and organise their lives better.

Take a trivial example. The open data movement has helped create a map of the locations of the bus stops of Britain. (Pretty boring you might say, but until the relevant authorities released their own data they didn’t realise how wrong and out-of-date it was. Crowdsourced corrections created a much better database.) Now link this up-to-date, correct map of bus stop locations with personal data – where I am right now and where I’m trying to get to – and there you have the raw materials for a pretty cool app.

Professor Nigel Shadbolt – the driving force behind the ODI – understands this connection only too well. After all, he’s also chairman of the UK Government’s midata programme.

Ctrl-Shift will be exploring this opportunity – when open data and personal data connect – with a special Explorers’ Club event to be held at the ODI in the New Year – January 31st. If you want to find out more click here.