Should Canadian governments free our data?

Just watched Tim Berners-Lee speaking about linked data at the TED conference. It’s worth 15 minutes of your time.

The question it leaves me with? Should Canadian governments be making data freely available and easily accessible for anyone who chooses to use it? I’ll give you two examples.


Edmonton has a wonderful consortium that collects and manages all the geo-spatial data for the city.  It’s a world class operation and – somewhat surprisingly given how sensible it is – a very unusual approach.  In most cities there is a tremendous amout of duplicated effort.  So GeoEdmonton is to be congratulated for its accomplishment.

They make this data available to consortium partners and online – in viewable formats.  And I’m sure you can make commercial atrangements to get access to the complete data set.  But they could take it one step forward and make it freely available through a programmatic interface.

You can’t really be-grudge them for wanting to charge for the data – it does have substantial value.  So, the argument for making it freely available is that the resulting innovations will lead to an even greater benefit to society as a whole.

And here’s another example:

Environment Canada makes weather data available in a variety of formats.  But, if I wanted to use this data in a broad and sophisitcated way I’d have to enter in to some sort of licensing arrangement with them.  Why not just provide an interfaces that lets people use what they want when they want it?  That would unleash true innovation.

There is of course, a reasonable argument that charging people to use the data on a ‘pay per use’ basis is fair game.  Since many of these users will themselves realize significant commercial benefit from using the data.  But the barriers required to negotiate and pay for such data stifles innovation.  Set it free and society will reap the greater rewards of this innovation.

Apple AppStore

Want proof?  Look at the iPhone.  Or more accurately, look at the AppStore.

Prior to the iPhone, wireless carriers exercised stringent controls on who was able to deploy applications to mobile devices.  It wasn’t impossible, but it was sufficiently difficult that only those with sufficient perserverence or financial resources persisted.  As a result, there were few applications and limited adoption by users.

Now?  There are more than 25,000 applications in the iPhone store and more than 1 billion applications have been downloaded.  Why?  Because a person in a garage can easily develop and deploy an application.

Freeing data will allow for similar innovation.

Leave a comment if you have some thoughts on the subject.



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