Everyone loves the four letter “f” word – free.
That’s what the open data movement seems to offer at first blush – access to free data from governments, who collect enough of it from us to fill warehouses full of online storage. So some organizations and individuals are eager to start open data-based businesses.
But as Canadian evangelist David Eaves pointed out in a blog Thursday, there are dangers to thinking about open data as a unique business space. Businesses need to solve real problems, he argues. So to think one can build a profitable enterprise around a concept (I have access to all this data) isn’t realistic.
Not only that, others have access to the same data.
Playing with open data can be fun and educational. An old friend and former reporter has taken data from the province of Ontario and Toronto to create an interactive set of maps to let people dig into the history of the city.
It’s an educational way of using open data and it shows how a developer can play with the technology and learn how to manipulate data. Lots of people are doing similar things to create free mobile apps for finding public parks and transit stops.
But, as Eaves maintains, the proper way to start a business is to think about what buyers want before worrying about the possible source of the product that will power it – unless the source is exclusive.
Or, to put it another way, handset manufacturers didn’t decide to turn to the Android operating system only because it’s free; they chose it because it’s designed for smart phones and for the potential ecosystem of applications that would be created.