When Open Data Isn’t Useful Data

Four Common Problems with Open Data, and How to Fix them with ArcGIS Online
Organizations create and manage a vast amount of data. Many of these organizations, such as government agencies, desire or are required to share certain data with the public. This data, when freely available for people to obtain, use, and redistribute, is called open data.
Open data is important for transparency and fostering innovation. Open data is also important for ensuring data integrity.
But just being “open” often isn’t enough–your open data also needs to be useful data.
Open data is most useful when it is discoverable, accessible, explorable, and collaborative.
Your Data Isn’t Discoverable
To be useful, people must first be able to find your open data.
Open data made available through Esri’s ArcGIS Online is easily discovered by the public. Not only does ArcGIS Online provide a web interface where people can search for the open data they are interested in, it also allows users to discover data through a general web search or by getting recommendations or notifications of new and relevant data.

ArcGIS Online for open data makes your data discoverable, accessible, explorable, and collaborative within minutes.
Your Data Isn’t Accessible
People must be able to access your open data to freely reuse and integrate it into their own tools and applications.
Data can be made available via a wide variety of mediums, such as APIs, web services, and common data formats. Ideally, the data is made available via multiple media that conform to open industry standards. Esri shapefile (SHP) is an open data format and industry standard. Additional open standards for geospatial data are managed by the Open Geospatial Consortium, Inc., and include KML. The widespread comma-separated value (CSV) data format for storing tabular data is also commonly used for sharing geospatial data. ArcGIS Online can automatically make your data available in these common formats for anyone to use.
Your Data Isn’t Explorable
If people can’t filter, visualize, and analyze your open data, as well as combine it with other datasets, they won’t be able to use it to answer questions and make new discoveries.
Open data enhancements in ArcGIS Online are integrated into the ArcGIS platform, which allows people to combine open data with other datasets in ArcGIS Online or to bring the data into ArcGIS for Desktop for advanced geospatial analysis. By adhering to the open standards mentioned above, the data is also usable in other programs, such as spreadsheet or statistics packages, for additional analysis.
Your Data Inhibits Collaboration
For your open data to be truly useful, people must be able to share the results of their exploration and analysis with the public and back to the data provider.
The whole point of open data is to make it broadly available so more people have access to it and can derive real value from it and then share it back with the community. ArcGIS Online includes capabilities for sharing and disseminating open data, such as creating web and mobile applications. This opens up the results for feedback and improvements that lead to further exploration and analysis, helping organizations and their data to become an important part of the growing open data community.
Make Useful Open Data
Not all open data is useful.  Open Data for ArcGIS makes data discoverable, accessible, explorable, and collaborative within minutes.
Through a collaborative and social web application, data creators and publishers can share their authoritative open data with the world quickly, reliably, and seamlessly from their existing ArcGIS Online infrastructure.
If you don’t already have ArcGIS Online and want to see how easy it is to share your open data, sign up for a free 30-day trial.

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8 responses to “When Open Data Isn’t Useful Data”

  1. Interesting article. The same principles should (but often don’t) apply inside your organisation. Open data is about providing useful data to those who seek it for discovery and exploration or out of necessity to complete a task. The article makes some good points about useful Open Data but misses the point that organisation need to deliver useful Open Data in the first place! Useful in terms of relevant, current, quality controlled, and usable to answer question spatially or non-spatially. Too often organisations release Open Data because they have to in needs to be “useful Open Data”. Open Data for ArcGIS is is a great way to get it out there but it works better with meaningful Open Data.

  2. people don’t need arcgis or arcgis online to use open data or make open data “useful” – arcgis and arcgis online are somewhat limited when it comes to data formats allowed in the software or how to actually bring it in the gis. Unles you have enough $ to have a license for an extension (on top of the $ you already paid for the license for the software). QGIS is free, has plenty of bells and whistles, and in most cases is more stable and allows users to bring in all sorts of formats… So dont say open data isn’t useful, when it comes down to it, arcgis is limited… ‘eh

  3. Really? This is an incredibly Esri-biased perspective. Now maybe we should expect that from the product marketing department, but as this comes off as an advice piece it’s kind of a load of crap. What you are really saying is that open data is only useful when it’s in ArcGIS Online – which is hardly an open system. Esri makes great software, don’t get me wrong, and I am an avid user for over 20 years. But there is more out there, a huge world of other geospatial tools and services.

  4. Good points as we’ve come to expect here (no pressure…) and that’s why I post gems like CLIWOC climate data 150+ yrs ago along ship tracks, or augment Ordnance Survey OpenData with agro wealth data since 1079 in East Anglia.

  5. Open data also are marginally-useful to useless if undocumented. What is included? Excluded? What do the fields mean? How current is it?

  6. As with all things “open” be it data, software, or whatever you will find a range from harmful, to useless, to great. If you are going to expose your data as open data, please document the fields and detail data collection methods and/or cite where you got the data from.
    I have worked at several companies that had different departments spending money to collect the same data. I have also been places that had corporate data repositories that were so poorly structured and documented that nobody really knew what was in all those terabytes. Here again proper documentation can really make data “open” to everyone. T

  7. The article leaves out several very critical points:
    1: Accuracy of the data itself. Multiple times much of the data is legacy data or data that is constantly changed. Along with control points or actually shape to ground issues, projection, etc; the data may amount to older map data released, because it is old.
    2: Updated data that is not published to the public due to various time or legal constraints. This follows the first point because in some cases there may be local, county, state, provincial or other federal statute that prohibits such.
    3: Truncated data for file size restraints. This is a common problem again with older data, but also happens when push some data to the cloud.
    4: Data created in less than ideal controlled situations: I have had access to open data that was poorly done in the first place due to improperly trained individuals, or moreover other outside constraints on the availability of a QA/QC concept.
    5: Jurisdictional accuracy. What I mean by this is a lack of standards to make data more and consistently accurate to work harmoniously with other data. This is akin to two surveys coming to each other from different directions giving two different results. This one singular is the most problematic for me when roads and other data must connect together seamlessly.

  8. Hi Richard,
    Yes, Open Data is open for everyone and explore this data for your desired extent.But at some point this huge database has to be secured unless it is going to be misused and bring more confusions to common people if people are not followed certain
    quality standards.

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