The Rise Of Open Data

There’s lots of talk about open source software in use all over the place. Linux runs everything from servers to cell phones. You can find it powering the entertainment system on your next flight. You can find it anywhere you use technology.

We talk much less about open data, but it’s equally interesting. The first and most prominent source is of course Wikipedia which is of course one of the largest sites on the Internet by most metrics. It’s data is widely used in many applications from being accessible on the Kindle to priming Facebook and presumably Quora (I don’t think they have ever confirmed it) with pages. It’s been downloaded and analyzed many times. Even the edits have been scrutinized by researchers to learn how people interact with each other.

Lesser known is OpenStreetMap, a project that may eventually challenge the long dominant Google Maps. OSM is to maps what Wikipedia is (or was) to encyclopedias. It’s website is still a bit crude and if made better would likely encourage some usage from folks who are opposed to Google on privacy grounds. Even more interesting is that OSM’s data is pretty widely consumed. Apple appears to be starting to use it. as they look to break the dependency on Google, a competitor for maps. Laminar Research uses it to generate a “plausible world” (their words not mine) in X-Plane 10. Think about that, a simulator using real street map data to generate a world that looks in many ways like the real world. It’s amazing.

Data has been ignored for so long, it’s just starting to get recognition. It was partly ignored because processing data used to be expensive. Cheap computing means data can be created, stored, processed, sifted and sorted, save and sent quicker and more affordable than ever before. We’re still at the beginning of this revolution.

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