Opening up open data: An interview with Tim O’Reilly

McKinsey: “The tech entrepreneur, author, and investor looks at how open data is becoming a critical tool for business and government, as well as what needs to be done for it to be more effective.

We’re increasingly living in a world of black boxes. We don’t understand the way things work. And open-source software, open data are critical tools. We see this in the field of computer security. People say, “Well, we have to keep this secret.” Well, it turns out that the strongest security protocols are those that are secure even when people know how they work.

It seems to me that almost every great advance is a platform advance. When we have common standards, so much more happens.
And you think about the standardization of railroad gauges, the standardization of communications, protocols. Think about the standardization of roads, how fundamental those are to our society. And that’s actually kind of a bridge for my work on open government, because I’ve been thinking a lot about the notion of government as a platform.

We should define a little bit what we mean by “open,” because there’s open as in it’s open source. Anybody can take it and reuse it in whatever way they want. And I’m not sure that’s always necessary. There’s a pragmatic open and there’s an ideological open. And the pragmatic open is that it’s available. It’s available in a timely way, in a nonpreferential way, so that some people don’t get better access than others.
And if you look at so many of our apps now on the web, because they are ad-supported and free, we get a lot of the benefits of open. When the cost is low enough, it does in fact create many of the same conditions as a commons. That being said, that requires great restraint, as I said earlier, on the part of companies, because it becomes easy for them to say, “Well, actually we just need to take a little bit more of the value for ourselves. And oh, we just need a bit more of that.” And before long, it really isn’t open at all.

Eric Ries, of Lean Startupfame, talks about a start-up as a machine for learning under conditions of extreme uncertainty.
He said it doesn’t have to do with being a small company, being anything new. He says it’s just whenever you’re trying to do something new, where you don’t know the answers, you have to experiment. You have to have a mechanism for measuring. You have to have mechanisms for changing what you do based on the response to that measurement…
That’s one of the biggest problems, I think, in our government today, that we put out programs. Somebody has a theory about what’s going to work and what the benefit will be. We don’t measure it. We don’t actually see if it did what we thought it was going to do. And we keep doing it. And then it doesn’t work, so we do something else. And then we layer on program after program that doesn’t actually meet its objectives. And if we actually brought in the mind-set that said, “No, actually we’re going to figure out if we actually accomplish what we set out to accomplish; and if we don’t, we’re going to change it,” that would be huge.”