An Open Data Can of Worms

John Musser, May 22nd, 2006

“So everyone in our tech bubble thinks open data is a good idea but hardly anyone is doing it.” This and other very spot-on observations about the issues surrounding open APIs and the data they provide from Paul Hammond’s excellent presentation last week at XTech as very nicely summarized here by Suw Charman. Paul’s slides are here and his blog here.

In one slide he took ProgrammableWeb data and did a useful summary by API provider showing that a quarter of the 200+ APIs come from 7 providers:


Also noted: “There are millions of RSS feeds, but these highlight the problems even more. You can now get RSS feeds for almost anything you want, but try getting in depth sports statistics, or updated stock market data, or flight times. You can’t get it. RSS is intended to be read in an aggregator, and most of it can’t be reused or republished. So you can get any data you want from the net, so long as it’s the last 10 items on an RSS feed, and you don’t what to do anything with it.”

He then outlines a series of non-technical issues that are the real obstacles to API growth:

  • Most companies don’t know what an API is
  • They make money from data, so ask “Why give it away?”
  • If you give it away, perceived value decreases
  • It’s risky, including losing money already coming-in

On top of that, many companies couldn’t open up if they wanted to

  • No rights for the data they use
  • Exclusivity issues with partners and providers

In the end, it’s a perceived “nice to have”. Paul’s recommendations include:

  • Don’t send an email demanding an API. That just makes you sound like a moron
  • Be aware of the problems, including the fact that most are non-technical
  • Have patience. Change takes time

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One Response to “An Open Data Can of Worms”

May 28th, 2006
at 11:57 pm
Comment by: Karthik

What struck me first when I saw the Pie chart is that “The People” are the biggest company.
“The People” have become more powerful than the corporations.
“The People” have smarter brains than any corporations in the world.

If only they realize. Web2.0 is a catalyst. We need to make proper use of it.

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John Musser
Founder, ProgrammableWeb

Adam DuVander
Executive Editor, ProgrammableWeb. Author, Map Scripting 101. Lover, APIs.