I recently attended an Open Data Master Class and I would like to share my thoughts, not as an expert but as a novice looking in on the CAR/Hacks Hackers/data journalism embryo. This is really a reflection on the nuggets of advice offered by some chieftains in the global village of data miners.
Open is suddenly cool – reflections on words by Dr. Hanif Rahemtulla (Nottingham University):
Data as it stands is not freely available; it’s not truly open. Because only the people who know where to find it, how to use it and how to visualize it truly have access to data. Raw numbers are useless. If you don’t understand the nature of it you can’t mediate it. Yet there is an ongoing movement towards open data; in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Norway and even Kenya. ‘Open’ is suddenly cool because of open source. Because government policies towards data has change (not in regards to embassy cables mind). Now we have a possible chain; from information to data to website to app. Data can be made local and carry all the relevance that locality allows (not just geo but interest based). If we can connect enough people in this chain who have the relevant knowledge and expertise then we could see government as a platform for ‘citizen assembled data’. I’ve been concentrating on this assembly chain as I’m tied up with what’s bringing home the bacon. What was truly great about this data class was the practical aspect which I hope to build upon. But the more I delve into the world of data the more I begin to realize that it is not as tidy or elegant as I’d like it to be…
Linking is the future of open data – reflections on words by James Forrester (Data.gov.uk)
Data can be made pretty now – think Information is Beautiful. But we need to create many pliable tools so that we can customize the view to the viewer and to the story itself (note I mean story and not data). Data needs to be editorialized. You can pull a lot of things out of data that aren’t true or worthwhile. But it’s detailed data that enables data miners to go further. data needs to come with meta data. Nothing should be in pdf. Locked up data doesn’t serve anyone. We have to know what we are dealing with before we can make it useable and it’s this information that the government needs to be pressed to produce. They also need to find out what data all the various bodies and factions are doing and put them in one place! Only then can the links with value be established.
The simple fact of the matter is more tasks can be done by machines so making a web of data means not creating a different web or a new web but making the web we have better – scraping and linking. So once data is open the government needs to make it machine readable. Those interested in data mining – revealing the gem – need to provide the context by linking. But merging data bases is not fun so there’s not many people will to go down the mines. The node step to a web of data is at the government where they need to agree of format and standards. And they have been consulting web developers and making the right steps. It’s the next links in the chain that are in our hands and which I want to be part of.
Mind mapping – reflections on words by Chris Parker and Ian Holt (Ordnance Survey)
Publication is not the same as communication. Nearly all data is published but very little gets communicated. One of the simplest (I did it in a day) and best tools for communicating data is to map it. The world we live in is 4D not 3D, there is an extra informational dimension. But information is an organic entity that grows very quickly and dies very quickly. Applying data to a digital dimension can solve real problems but can cost a hell of a lot of time and money to maintain. I was talking to a developer at the Data Revolution event and he pointed me to an app called Layar. We were talking about #gmp24 and he wondered if a world could exist where if you saw an accident you wanted to report you could check your phone to see if someone else had already called in. No more ‘ I assumed someone else had done it’ excuses.
I’m not sure what this new age of digital information will look like but I sure as hell am going to do my best to be part of it.