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.”

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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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