Stuff explained: What is open data and why should you care about it?

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Open data is, basically,  the idea that certain data should be freely available to everyone to use as they wish, without restrictions from copyright, patents or other mechanisms of control. A piece of data is open if anyone is free to use, reuse, and redistribute it — subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and/or share-alike.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web talks about open data in this TED talk:

 

“Opening up data is fundamentally about more efficient use of resources and improving service delivery for citizens.  The effects of that are far reaching: innovation, transparency, accountability, better governance and economic growth.”

(via)

The idea would be: if you make your datasets open to the public, more researchers would have the opportunity to play with it and see what gives; potentially expanding knowledge. This can be particularly helpful for those operating on limited resources of their own: a lot of researchers using open data come from the global South/open data is being very successfully used by research informing policymakers in developed countries; see, for example, Ghana’s open data initiative or the Open Data Research network.

Now, Sir Berners-Lee makes another interesting distinction:

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Monday Graph: Happiness and Human Development Accross the World

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In July this year, The Economist’s Graphic Detail blog has looked at the relation between Human Development Index (which ranks countries by life expectancy, education and income per person) and reported feelings of happiness /positive emotions, as reported in a Gallup poll.

happiness hdi

(click on the image to see the interactive map and read the original Economist article)

At first sight, there does not seem to be much of a link between HDI and experiencing feelings of happiness; apart from noting that people in Latin American/Carribean countries appear to experience positive feelings more often and in South, Central Asia and non-EU Europe less often, interesting patterns are not readily visible.

However, let’s look a bit more closely.

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