Open Data Essay- Jennifer Callanan

When I began my research on open data I had no in-depth knowledge of what it entailed. Open Definition describes open data as a piece of content or data open to anyone and is free to use, re-use and redistribute it. It gave Wikipedia as an example of open data. Wikipedia is open because its code, Mediawiki is free and open source software that is made available. When you think of Wikipedia you we are constantly warned against it but it is one of the important sources of open data we have. Just because Wikipedia has a liberal license which allows anyone to copy, use and change or even improve the site, all because the source code is presented to anyone who wishes to use it. This is a huge feat for open data. Unlike Wikipedia, Google Maps is not an example of open data. Yes it is currently free service but the code is owed and the data in provides in copyrighted, leaving users do little else but look at it.

While government initiatives opened up governmental information to the public through the medium of websites such as and, there were also three detrimental acts to come with this development. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), was set up as an implementation to tackle online attacks of copyrighted intellectual property and forged goods. This act would allow law enforcement to decline access to entire online domains if infringement took place on website or even personal blogs. While SOPA was put in place to protect intellectual property, many opposed arguing that SOPA is a liability to free speech and originality and as a consequence internet communities would face destruction.

The 18th January 2012 saw a major protest against SOPA. While many people would not have been aware of it before that day, SOPA could destroy the internet. It was only on this day that we really got a glimpse of just how important open data is. Wikipedia along with several thousand other website constructed a service blackout to raise awareness of the issues we face. The internet has become such a forsaken thing that we constantly abuse and take for granted but how far would we go to protect it?

Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) is yet addition power given to copyright holders to control access to ‘rogue’ websites. These ‘rogue’ website are classed as devoted to infringement. Infringement through PIPA is defined as the delivery of illegal goods and copies. It is feared that PIPA could damage internet integrity and again, our freedom of speech. In the limelight more recently is the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). ACTA is a global treaty to launch international standards for intellectual property rights and there implementation. In an attempt to combat counterfeit goods and generic medicines and infringement via the internet ACTA was founded. It is said to be a response to the increase of counterfeit goods and pirated works entering trade on a global scale. Many people feel that this agreement would not only affect their freedom of expression but also intrude on their privacy.

Clay Shirky- TED talks

The open data debate is ever growing and of increasing concern to more and more people. Personally all three acts seem like the exact same thing reworded to sound different. When the act has not been past they come along with the same thing under a new title and pitch that, all to speed the process and get their plans in motion. Clay Shirky (above) believes that these acts are not achievable but will cause a huge stir along the way. He says that SOPA and PIPA are nuclear and they are an attempt to go anywhere in the world and censor content. He believes that we, the people/users, are the ones that will be punished and it will be a case of guilty until proven innocent. He argues that PIPA and SOPA are ways to get us back on the couch, consuming, not producing and certainly not sharing. When these three acts where pitch and talked through, they forgot to think on the benefits open data provides. Open data is not just a mere fight for the sake of it, it is essential to innovation, self-empowerment, and growth of knowledge. It allows creativity to flourish and in the case of government open data it improves the efficiency of government services, it adds more value to the research conducted as it can be used on a wide-spread level and most importantly it allows democratic control. Open data allows us to see where our money goes and how it is being spent by the government. “A woman in Denmark built, which showed all the Danish public toilets, so that people she knew with bladder problems can now trust themselves to go out more again”, (Open Data Handbook), this is a prime example of the further good that open data allows, government research made into open data for the benefit of ordinary, everyday people with common problems.

Tim Berners-Lee gave a talk on the importance of open data and how far it has come in a year. He recognised that without open data, mash-ups would not be possible and he informs us just how useful these mash-ups can be. He said that the open data movement is only getting started. It is a very positive video and makes you realise how much the world has opened up with the help of open data and mash-ups. Tim asks that we put data onto the web (government, community and scientific data) on the basis that it will be used by other people to do wonderful things in ways that you never could have imagined. Community generated raw material has allowed something like OpenStreetMap to take off. OpenStreetMap gives the ordinary Joe Soap the control to obtain, edit and save raw geodata to the OpenStreetMap database. Now anyone who looked at a street map and thought it could be better could do something about it. He gives the example of Haiti in which the OpenStreetMap was utilised to its full potential. People watching the tragic disaster and wanted to help built a real-time map showing blocked roads, damaged buildings and things that were needed.

Tim Burners-Lee TED talks

I believe that the majority of people, after reading this and researching open data for themselves, will agree that open data is very beneficial to everyone and it removes the limits put on furthering our knowledge. I hope that I have shed a light on the pressing issues open data faces and have widened your understanding of the topic. Take a look at these open websites:

Work Cited:












Social Media and the ‘Wisdom of Crowds’

The topic of my personal research project is Social Media; the affect that it has on us as indiviuals, and also the affect that it has on contemporary society as a whole. The topic of my class presentation and the related posts in my personal blog have primarily focused on the affect that social media has on us as individuals, such as our formation and maintenance of digital seconds selves in parallel with our everyday, analogue lives. The introduction post on this topic can be found here. The message that I attempt to deliver in my personal blog and presentation is that, as individuals, we can tend to invest too much time into our digital selves, resulting in large portions of our lives being lived in these spaces, and as a result, a deterioration of quality time invested in our actual selves.  This video parodies that idea with a musical quality that I lacked in my presentation:

I will now use our collective class blog to expand upon the idea of social media in a broader context, specifically the role that it plays in contemporary society as a whole and the power of social media in harnessing the unlimited potential of the co-creation and sharing of ideas among individuals for the benefit of society. This idea is known as ‘Digital Humanitarianism’ which I briefly touched upon in this post.

In this Ted Talks video, Clay Shirky briefly outlines advances in media that have aided human interaction. The first of these, and the topic of Sinead‘s class presentation, was the printing press. Then followed conversational media such as the telegraph and then the telephone. These were followed by radio and then television. Technology such as the telephone provided us with ‘one-to-one’ interaction, while advances such as the radio resulted in a ‘one-to-many’ form of interaction.

Today, as a result of social media, we have this:

Above, is Bill Cheswick’s Internet Mapping Project in which he traces the edges of individual networks and then colour-codes them. This image beautifully illustrates the social scale of networks which the internet and social media allow to interact. While previously media only allowed limited ‘one-to-one’ or ‘one-to-many’ interaction, according to Clay Shirky: “the internet is the first medium in history that has native support for groups and conversation at the same time.” Essentially, allowing ‘many-to-many’ interaction on a large scale, international medium for the first time. Social media has become the mode of transport for all the previously discussed modes of communication such as video and phone technology. Social media sites catering for specific interests now allow users to watch, read, or experience the same content, while simultaneously discussing it, regardless of space or time.

While the personal benefits of such interaction are obvious, there are also global benefits of social media and the instant interaction and sharing which it provides a platform for. Particularly in the coverage of, and reaction to, global disaters.

Here are two videos; the first is a news broadcast from 03/11/2011 reporting on the tsunami which was devestating Japan:

The second video is a piece of citizen footage, filmed by a handheld video recording device on location, and uploaded to the internet:

Which video was more powerful? Which video gave you a more vivid and honest depiction of the experience of the disaster?

For me, without a doubt, it was the second video. And this is why; According to James Surowiecki, citizen journalism and social media will play a major role in the future of world news coverage, and digital humanitarianism. Surowiecki states, in this Ted Talks video, that the tsunami disaster was the seminal moment when social media, and particularly the Blogsphere, came of age. During and following the disaster, bloggers came together to give us a far more powerful experience of the tsunami that mainstream news simply could not achieve. People adding so much content such as their personal accounts and videos of the disaster at ground level, and dedicating time to link and tag these posts accordingly was done for free, with no other intent but to share their stories. While very few individuals make a living off blogging, most of these people do it simply for the social capital.

This, according to Surowiecki, is the great genious of the internet. People have found a way to collaborate and create and share, without any money at all. This has resulted in expanding our established ideologies such as ‘value=money’ or that we must pay for something for it to be of any quality. We all have something to contribute, and if we collaborate and share it without capitalistic goals, we can create beautiful, and powerful things. And this is why I, personally, am fascinated with the potential that social media holds for the future of our society. The Wisdom of Crowds, also written by Surowiecki, touches on this collective potential of groups of people working together, and the fact that group intelligence is far greater than that of the individual. Often the collective intelligence of a group can be far greater than that of even the smartest person within that group. This is why social media’s focus on creating networks of individuals, and providing a space for ideas to travel freely, is integral to the future quality of what we experience on the world wide web.

While social media is a utopic space to nurture this collective intelligence by allowing free collaborative networking, the rapidity of social media also results in great advances on the humanitarian front, particularly in terms of awareness. A case in point is the earthquake in China in May of 2008 which was announced on Twitter several minutes before the US Geological Survey. This resulted in a shift of the established paradigm of a government which informs its citizens, to a citizen body that informs its government but also the world. This act was one of many which contributed to the return of agency to the citizens of cities and nations world wide. Within half a dayof the earthquake, as a result of social media sites sharing news of the disaster, donations webpages were set up with donations pouring in:

Image taken from Clay Shirky Ted Talks video.

Evidently, social media has far more potential than simply being a means of maintaining idyllic, digital second selves through sites such as Facebook:

Other mediums, particularly the blogsphere, are encouraging collaborative interaction of creative individuals, which in turn, results in the production of powerful, passionate representations of the world around us, that traditional capitalist institutes cannot match. If we can avoid the addictive tendencies of those from the preivious ‘Gotta Share’ video, we can make a difference in the quality of content that is produced in today’s digital age. As well as this, social media is playing an increasing role in the humanitarian field, offering powerful ground level coverage, as well as rapid response and support, to global disasters such as the Japanese tsunami. In the words of Evan Williams, co-founder of Twitter: “When you give people easier ways to share information, more good things happen.”

Works Cited:

 Ted Talks Videos

Lewis, Paul. “Citizen journalism.”

Shirky, Clay. “How social media can make history.”

Surowiecki, James. “When social media became news.”

Williams, Evan. “Listening to Twitter users.”


Newspaper Articles

‘Sichuan Earthquake’ New York Times. Accessed May 15 2012.


Surowiecki, James. The Wisdom of Crowds. Anchor Books. 2004.