The Open Knowledge Foundation (OKF) has launched an Australian Chapter to push for greater public access to data held by governments, businesses, and researchers.
The organisation, founded in 2004, seeks to promote better governance, culture, research, and economies through greater access, redistribution, reuse, and openness of information.
Speaking to ZDNet on the rationale behind the launch of an Australian chapter, OKF co-founder Dr Rufus Pollock said that a local open data community is required in order for governments and businesses to be persuaded to open their data.
"The real hope is that the chapters which have started up become leaders, and the communities they build become central in the open knowledge and open data movements in their countries, pushing to get information opened up," he said. "Also, that they do stuff with that data — create apps and insights — and bring people together."
Pollock likened the emergence of the open data movement to the environmental movement four decades ago, and argued that the issue of open data would become as mainstream an issue within politics as the environment has become.
"I think we are really seeing the beginning of an era," he said. "Just as we saw the emergence of the environmental movement in the 1970s ... we are at the beginning of the open movement for the information age. We are working to put open at the heart of the knowledge society."
According to Pollock, the benefits of opening up data across government, business, and science are already being realised, as seen in the mapping of the human genome and in new tools, such as Where Does My Money Go, which provides an analysis and visualisation of information about UK public spending.
In the world of business, it is foreseeable that open databases on everything from mobile phone tariffs to food product ingredients to medication side effects would be created and shared, Pollock said.
"If you are at Nestle, you already print information on the side of food packets," he said. "Why can't you make that data available? Your business is not in selling data, it is in selling something else. Releasing that information is good for business, good for trust, and good for consumers."
Commenting on the barriers to greater openness of data, Pollock said that Australian state and federal governments have made advances; however, the vast size of available data sets and the resources required to make it available mean there are still challenges to be overcome.
"It could be basic things like whether the budget is in machine-readable form ... through to the boundaries for the upcoming election," he said. "The Electoral Commission has published electoral boundaries on data.gov.au, but they are from the 2010 election because they haven't got around to publishing that in an open, machine-readable form."
In the commercial sector, Pollock acknowledged that many businesses view their data as commercially valuable, and would be reluctant to openly share it. However, he argued that businesses are increasingly realising that the commercial value of data is in the goods and services created using that data, not in the data itself.
"Data is a platform, not a commodity," he said. "The way to make money from data is to build on it, not sell it. You sell commodity and you build on platforms, and that is a good model.
"I think even companies such as Bloomberg, which has valuable data that is expensive to get, is starting to move into the business of selling services built around its data, not just the data itself."
Similarly, a number of companies are now making "serious bucks" off services created using the data available in the free worldwide map, OpenStreetMap, Dr Pollock said.