On Encountering Skeptical Views Around Open Data

I spend a lot of time talkng about open data in business, and government of all shapes and sizes. This topic was front and center at APIDays Berlin / APIStrat Europe, and APIDays Mediterranea. Open data was a part of numerous talks, but most importantly dominated conversations in the hallways, and late into the night at the drinking establishments we gathered.

In my experience there are four camps of people when it comes to open data:

  1. Those who know nothing about open data
  2. Those who don't know much, but have lots of opinions
  3. Those who have experience, and over promise the results
  4. Those who have experience, and get hands dirty

I'd say overwhelmingly the people I met in my latest travels were in the first bucket, or the fourth bucket. However I did meet a handful of folks who I put in the second bucket, and were very dismissive of the potential of open data. In my experience these people either listened to the rhetoric of people in bucket three, or just don't have the experience that many of the rest of us have.

I agree that the state of open data our of city, state, and federal level government programs is often lacking much of what we'd like to see in a healthy, mature program. What I feel skeptics miss, is hands on experience making this happen in government (this shit is hard), and a willingness to help take things to the next level. This takes an effort from all of us, not just the people in government--there is a lot you can do from the outside to help make things better (not just criticize).

It feels like we are getting past a lot of the damage created by early open data rhetoric, that I felt over-promsied, and under-delivered. Something we have to learn from in future storytelling. I don't feel like all open data skeptics, and critics are required to get their hands dirty, but I guarantee if you work on a couple of hands on projects--your views will change.