28 April 2010

Data is Green

Of the three R's of responsible consumerism, I think the second R holds the most promise. The idea is that if you must buy something, then make it something durable and use it up.  This appeals to me.  If I spend a few extra bucks and purchase the durable good over the cheap one, I get to enjoy a superior product for longer.  And, as a bonus, I get to spend less of my life shopping.

On a recent trip to a small Mexican town I was struck by many cultural differences.  One of these was the extent to which things are used up.  Regardless of the motivation, it was clear that the residents of the town where I was staying were using things long after the point at which I personally would have discarded them.  From houses to automobiles to plastic containers to electronics to clothing and even food, things that I would have been comfortable with discarding here would continue to be used long after they made their way out of my life.

The Implications of Reuse for Data
As I was thinking about Reuse, it really struck me what an opportunity we have with our data.

We spend a lot of time and attention filling out forms and understanding terminology and concepts so that when we sign them, we know what we're doing and we get the services we need.  We do this when we want to interact with both governments and businesses.  We also provide the funds to enable government to collect all sorts of data about our resources, the places we live and the events that occur in our world so that we can be safe and secure and our resources utilized effectively.

We also spend money indirectly through taxes and fees to have that data stored, protected, backed up and maintained  by those public and corporate entities.  Its mind boggling to think about all the places my data resides and how many times my name, address and phone number are stored.

The data that we give  is only used for that one organization.  And, it's typically only used for the purpose it was collected for.

Why not find a way to store data so that it could be reused FOREVER by multiple parties?

Open Data and Reusability
If we were to add up all of the time, energy and resources required to store and manage our resource, geographical, financial and personal information and keep it locked up in hundreds or thousands of different locations, the impact on our environment must be significant.

Open Data allows that same data to be reused freely and infinitely for multiple purposes, so that we can maximize its value.  It also allows system developers to reduce their use of data because they don't have to reinvent data where it already exists.

I think Open Data represents an ultimate opportunity for reuse.  If data had a colour, it would have to be green.

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