A brief history of open data

Article by Luke Fretwell in FCW: “In December 2007, 30 open-data pioneers gathered in Sebastopol, Calif., and penned a set of eight open-government data principles that inaugurated a new era of democratic innovation and economic opportunity.
“The objective…was to find a simple way to express values that a bunch of us think are pretty common, and these are values about how the government could make its data available in a way that enables a wider range of people to help make the government function better,” Harvard Law School Professor Larry Lessig said. “That means more transparency in what the government is doing and more opportunity for people to leverage government data to produce insights or other great business models.”
The eight simple principles — that data should be complete, primary, timely, accessible, machine-processable, nondiscriminatory, nonproprietary and license-free — still serve as the foundation for what has become a burgeoning open-data movement.

The benefits of open data for agencies

  • Save time and money when responding to Freedom of Information Act requests.
  • Avoid duplicative internal research.
  • Use complementary datasets held by other agencies.
  • Empower employees to make better-informed, data-driven decisions.
  • Attract positive attention from the public, media and other agencies.
  • Generate revenue and create new jobs in the private sector.

Source: Project Open Data

In the seven years since those principles were released, governments around the world have adopted open-data initiatives and launched platforms that empower researchers, journalists and entrepreneurs to mine this new raw material and its potential to uncover new discoveries and opportunities. Open data has drawn civic hacker enthusiasts around the world, fueling hackathons, challenges, apps contests, barcamps and “datapaloozas” focused on issues as varied as health, energy, finance, transportation and municipal innovation.
In the United States, the federal government initiated the beginnings of a wide-scale open-data agenda on President Barack Obama’s first day in office in January 2009, when he issued his memorandum on transparency and open government, which declared that “openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in government.” The president gave federal agencies three months to provide input into an open-government directive that would eventually outline what each agency planned to do with respect to civic transparency, collaboration and participation, including specific objectives related to releasing data to the public.
In May of that year, Data.gov launched with just 47 datasets and a vision to “increase public access to high-value, machine-readable datasets generated by the executive branch of the federal government.”
When the White House issued the final draft of its federal Open Government Directive later that year, the U.S. open-government data movement got its first tangible marching orders, including a 45-day deadline to open previously unreleased data to the public.
Now five years after its launch, Data.gov boasts more than 100,000 datasets from 227 local, state and federal agencies and organizations….”