Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Open data funding - experiments and ecosystems

Paying for the Open

The funding aspect of open data development came up at Open Data Brighton & Hove (#odbh) last night - who should (or shouldn't) pay for it?

While one camp says that there are lots of people who will build on top of open data for free and for passion, the camp at the other end of the hall wants to see return on investment for work paid for. The latter works both ways - people want to be paid to develop, and people want to pay for development. If the payback is enough, of course.

In a sense, both camps are "right" - the model you believe in depends on your daily interests, daily funding models, and where else you get money from. So it's easy to see that some people are fine building free side-projects, while for others it's a day job. Sometimes one person may have a foot on both sides, depending on what's going on that particular day/week/whatever.

This will always be the case. So it's really really important to understand that there is no "correct" model. Any open data ecosystem needs to fundamentally take this into account. Making data available is great - some people will run and play with it. But working out funding and collaboration is also great. Both are essential, even in the context of open-source, cutbacks, austerity and liberal progressiveness etc etc.


The more I think about #odbh, the more I notice how much I'm influenced by the openness of the Bitcoin community. Other open communities exist, of course, and do similar things, I'm sure, but Bitcoin is the one I'm closest to at the moment.

(Background sidenote: Ignore what Bitcoin is, and whether it's a good idea or not. The relevant and important point is how people are organising around it.)

One funding model that seems to work is the "Bounties" model - a kind of funding pledge, but one based on identifying desired functionality rather than, say, group activity or a band's next output. This list of bounties isn't complete, but it illustrates how it works and the kind of work people want done.

Could this work for open data development? If people are serious about wanting an idea turned into reality, shouldn't they put their wallet where their mouth is? Does it offer a "third way" to both working for free or having to "prove" your idea in advance?

I suppose what I'd envision is a bit like the Ideas section on, but with more ... oomph, more "I really want this" instead of "This'd be nice".


To wrap up, what this says to me is that open data is more than just about getting data out there, and even more than just about how we weave data into our everyday lives. It's about how we commission progress, how we organise collaboration, and how we identify needs.

All stuff we've been doing for ages, really. But here's a chance to try new ways of approaching old problems, and to bring all of that experimentation together. To create a very real open ecosystem.

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