Three ways Open Data is changing the world

OpenData has exploded past its nascent phase as an answer to improved transparencyinto a full-fledged movement that permeates all levels of everyday life. Givingcitizens access to the troves of public data gathered by the government hastriggered a windfall of technology and programs that are improving the lives ofpeople everywhere, in very tangible ways.

1. APIs translate datainto a common, accessible language

OpenData works because the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. By compilingvolumes of existing data into one place, government gives citizens the rawmaterial for all kinds of new services and solutions. Hackers and developerscan use public data sets to create apps and crunch data in ways that were notpossible due to data being locked in separate silos.

Forexample, New York City’s “Geek Squad” of data analysts recently found correlations betweengeo-spatial sewer data and health department inspections information that ledto a 95 percent success rate in tracking down restaurants that were illegallydumping grease and clogging up the sewer lines. In Chicago, developers created TowText, a smart phone appthat sends you a text message within minutes of your car being towed. Servingdata to the public via APIs is providing citizens with real-time data that theycan use to solve civic problems.

The true power of anAPI is that it grants developers access to data in real time. A great exampleof the relevance of real time data is TowText, the Chicago city app that alertsdrivers within minutes of their car being towed.

2. Open Data acceleratesdevelopment globally

OpenData is not just a first world commodity; it’s being used to promotetransparency and increase services all around the world. In 2011, Kenya becamethe first developing country to host an Open Data portal.

Kenya’ssite has over 500 data sets so developers areable to harness the data the government is already collecting and translate itinto information that empowers citizens. Portal-derived apps are currentlyhelping Kenyans choose the bestschools for their children and locate the best healthfacilities for their medical needs. Open Data is the currency that’s elevatingKenya’s community of programmers and hackers to a recognized part of theinternational community.

Andglobally, the World Bank is using their OpenData portal to provide unprecedented transparency about country funding. Userscan sort by country to see how muchmoney is given or received in loans and grants. Ultimately, the World Bankhopes that transparency will help reduce corruption and waste so citizens canget the full value of aid.

Kenya’s Open Dataportal is empowering citizens to choose the best schools with up-to-date, rich,geo-spatial data.

3. Consumers benefitfrom unprecedented transparency

OpenData is leveling the playing field between consumers and businesses by arming consumerswith information. Current instances include exposing discrepancies in Medicarebillings, leading the consumer rights fight with credit card companies, and exposingairline complaints. In all of these cases, issues were found when all of thedata was brought together and made open. For example, should the samegallbladder surgery at one hospital be billed to Medicare at more thantwice the cost at a hospital less than 45 minutes away? Shouldn’t dinershave access to health inspections as readily as theydo Yelp reviews? These are the kinds of common sense improvements that greaterdata disclosure can help to drive. 

Social media made itpossible for people to find restaurants with delicious food. But Open Data isexposing which restaurants run a clean kitchen, as well.

AtSocrata, we’ve been on the leading edge of this Open Data movement since thevery beginning. Our cloud-based solution helps democratize access to data with turnkey,practical products. We’ve been chosen as the data sharing platform offorward-thinking governments in the US like New York City, Chicago, SanFrancisco, and Maryland, and ubiquitous organizations like the United Nations,Department of Health & Human Services, and the Consumer Finance ProtectionBureau. Now available as part of the Azure infrastructure, we’re poised to helpmore European and LATAM governments, NGOs, and citizen groups realize thepotential that Open Data holds. Read our press release—Socrata’s Suite of Open DataSolutions Now Available on Windows Azure Worldwide—or visit for more informationon our solutions.

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Safouen Rabah
VP of Product, Socrata