David Eaves, Open Data Blogger and Activist from Canada, boldly claimed that the World Bank's Open Data Policy allows many more people to use our data, rigorously study and analyze it, and draw their own conclusions about what it means. That was just not possible before now.
It reminds me of what the laptop, digital camera, and mobile phone did for journalists and film makers. Technology fundamentally leveled the playing the field and democratized access to content. Suddenly, many more people could participate in journalism and create their own videos (24 hours of video is uploaded into YouTube every 60 seconds). Is that what the World Bank's Open Data policy can unleash? I love the possibility.
While the World Bank formally announced its Apps for Development Challenge today, and beta launched a Mapping for Results platform, David was just as interested in democratizing the ability to analyze data, do research, and challenge conventional conclusions. The truth is it was never previously possible to argue with development economists and other technical specialists when you didn't have access to the same information and tools.
But as President Zoellick announced at Georgetown last week, the World Bank's vision for research involves framing important development problems, making our underlying data sets available to researchers and students everywhere, and letting a thousand flowers bloom. Feels like distributed computing to me. Whereas before, corporations purchased supercomputers to do super-complicated tasks, today, leveraging the power of thousand of PCs exceeds the computing power of any single machine. So what can thousands of one-person think tanks working alongside academic institutions, and institutions like the World Bank achieve? That's what we're about to find out.
But we can't expect elegant solutions overnight. When it comes to disruptive ideas, we overestimate results in the short-term but underestimate impact in the longer-term. David Eaves reminded us that when libraries were built in the US in the 1920s or when the printing press emerged in the 15th century, things didn't change overnight. In fact, with libraries it was those who could read that benefited most initially. And the printing press eliminated the jobs of thousands of scribes. But who would argue today that libraries didn't bring knowledge into the hands of millions of people and the printing press didn't democratize access to information. Is Open Data on a similar trajectory? Our panel certainly believed this to be the case. Hans Rosling described data as the intellectual sidewalk of the modern economy and David Eaves suggested data is the plankton of the 21st century knowledge society. We certainly don't want to over-promise but I'm excited about where this is all heading.
What do you think?