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Open data is the electricity of the 21st century

As I said earlier, today:

Open data is the electricity of the 21st century.

How do I come to this conclusion, you ask?

Well, imagine for a moment all the electricity on earth would be switched off; as an aside: this is unfortunately not an entirely theoretical thing (cf. EMP). What would happen? No, I’m not talking about that you’ll likely miss your favourite TV show. There are serious consequences to be expected, such as people suffering in hospitals, planes crashing, essentially causing our civilisation grinding to a halt. Now, I hope you can acknowledge the pervasiveness of electricity and our dependency thereof.

But how does this relate to open data?

Both electricity and open data share a couple of features:

  • You need an infrastructure (generation, distribution, etc.) to be able to benefit from it.
  • On its own it’s pretty useless. You need ‘applications’ to exploit it.
  • You notice it only as soon as it is not available (anymore).

Concerning electricity, a lot of people had numerous ideas how to utilise it (long before it reached wide adoption) and had to overcome serious obstacles and there were existential fights about deployment and which technologies to use (read more in The Story of Electricity by John Munro).

Now, just like electricity, open data is about to become ubiquitous these days. Be it governments or private entities that, for example, seek to optimise their Web presence. And there are and will be discussions about how to best expose the data (on the Web).

Note that I’m not trying to advocate that all data on earth should be open to everyone. This is maybe the biggest difference to electricity. There are cases (and let’s be honest, quite a few) where the privacy, concerning a person or an organisation, must take precedence over the ‘openness’ of the data. But let this be no excuse to not publish your data on the Web, if there are no privacy concerns.

All that is missing now are applications, on a large scale, that utilise the open data. Think about it, the next time you switch on your TV or use your oven to prepare a meal for the ones you love 😉


About woddiscovery

Web of Data researcher and practitioner


9 thoughts on “Open data is the electricity of the 21st century

  1. Although the comparison between open data and elictricity is interesting, it is important to note that everyone has to pay for the privilege of using electricity. Thus, not really sure that this comparison is the best to promote the FREE linked open data.

    Posted by Quentin | 2010-11-20, 11:51
    • Quentin,

      I think one should not confuse open with free. There is nothing like free (in the sense of ‘comes with no costs at all’). Even if organisations make their data available in an open way, using non-propriety formats and you only use FOSS tools to consume it: still, *someone* has to pay *something*, including your Internet connection, your machine, etc.


      Posted by woddiscovery | 2010-11-26, 14:19
  2. open data – independent infrastructure

    Not so clear what author means by “open”. Are data open when they’re showed on a website? That’s not enough. The data have to be findable via independent browsers, they must be downloadable for a reasonable price, the website must be reachable within a reasonable time and for a reasonable price and the data must be collectable bot- & cookiefree.

    A big difference with electricity is the amount of players in the market. On internet globally the main players can be counted by a four years old. And these players decide via bots what data you’ll find. Some more broadthinking is urgently needed.

    Posted by 10com | basical rights for civilians in digital worlds | 2010-11-23, 00:48
    • +1 to all your requirements (‘findable’, etc.) but unsure what exactly you mean with ‘some more broadthinking is urgently needed’ – example?

      Posted by woddiscovery | 2010-11-26, 14:21
  3. publishing is not enough. Publishing in open formats that enable to reuse data is mandatory 🙂

    Posted by simon | 2010-11-25, 15:05
  4. Simon, did you follow the link and read [1]? Sure thing, open formats …


    [1] http://lab.linkeddata.deri.ie/2010/star-scheme-by-example/

    Posted by woddiscovery | 2010-11-26, 14:14


  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Open data is the electricity of the 21st century « Web of Data -- Topsy.com - 2010-11-20

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