The Social Media Research Foundation and the Guardian’s Facebook Timeline app

Visualizing the Future: The Social Media Research Foundation

If we are approaching the age of Big Data, then it is imperative that companies, schools, governments and people alike learn to make sense of and see patterns in vast amounts of data. To that effect, the Social Media Research Foundation is here to save the day.

With an aim to create “open tools, generate and host open data, and support open scholarship” about social media, the organization is poised to dissect the mountains of data that are updated continually online.

The foundation is truly a collaborative effort by researchers from an array of institutions including Microsoft Research, Morningside Analytics and many universities including our very own University of Georgia.



The organization’s biggest project to date is NodeXL, a free, open network discovery and exploration add-on for Excel.  Using this familiar spreadsheet format, NodeXL offers companies and social media researchers a way to collect, analyze and visualize complex social networks in an easy way.

Visualization is the key to understanding how and what we communicate via social networks.  Take, for example, the Bill Gates Foundation.

Marc Smith, one of many researchers involved with the foundation, visually graphed the social networks of the Bill Gates Foundation using NodeXL and, according to a article, found that their network is a “fairly insular and uncommunicative group of people.”  Gates serves as a broadcaster, but does not encourage the community to actively connect with each other.

Without the use of visualization, this trend may not have become apparent.  NodeXL hosts a gallery of hundreds of social media visualizations that have been submitted by users.  The gallery graphs everything from the connections among Twitter users who recently tweeted the #knightfdn or Knight News Challenge to a graphic representation of an individual’s Facebook connections.

The visualization add-on has mostly been used to graph Twitter hashtags or connections, but the tool has the potential to offer companies a chance to find patterns of use and trends among Facebook users

In short, the Social Media Research Foundation’s NodeXL add-on can help companies in their search to prove that they really understand their customers.

Want to learn more? Visit to learn more about the foundation or to view the open gallery.

The Guardian’s Facebook Timeline App


Since Facebook first launched its Facebook Timeline app component, more than 3000 apps have been created to take advantage of frictionless sharing. In the media world, several apps have resulted in a large increase of user traffic, mostly by users that are traditionally hard for traditional media outlets like The Guardian to reach.


That being said, The Guardian’s new Facebook Timeline app is a step in the right direction. The app has been installed over 5 million times with more than half of its users under the age of 24.

Like many other media outlets, The Guardian Facebook Timeline app is a social reader.  With a few clicks allowing The Guardian app to access your Facebook data, the app allows you to read The Guardian’s content and seamlessly share what you’ve read with your friends. As soon as you’ve clicked on an article, that article is then posted to your news feed or ticker and your friends get a glimpse at your news reading habits.  You can also, thereby, see what your friends have been reading at

The launch of this Facebook Timeline app has meant a monumental increase in traffic for The Guardian UK.  According to an article on, The Guardian recently reached a new record of unique visitors to its website, and 30 percent of those visitors were attributed to Facebook referrals.  That’s up from 2 percent just six months ago, prior to the launch of the Facebook Timeline app.

While an increase in traffic is good for The Guardian, besides recommendations from friends and time saved from sharing articles that you’ve read and liked, the app could also offer content that is personalized. The Guardian is poised to show readers that they really get them by tailoring recommended content to a person’s interests, saving the user precious time in finding content that’s relevant to them.

Want to know more about the power of The Guardian’s new Facebook Timeline app? Visit

How WebMD Can Change The Future of Health

In 2011, CNN and many other media outlets reported on a new study about where patients get their health information.  According to this study, one in five people uses Facebook or Twitter to get health information.  That being said, the market is growing larger as we speak, as start-ups and established technology companies alike compete in the Health 2.0 race.  Just take a look at this 200-slide presentation on what the future of healthcare is beginning to look like–iPhone vital sign monitors, localized health data presented in interactive visual format, mobile apps with 3D interactive visuals to explain conditions. The list goes on and on.  And if you’re like me, you want to know what’s worth your time and what isn’t.

WebMD has a unique market.  People visit WebMD to find out more about a condition, to read the latest health news and to find easy to digest information to help them make informed health decisions.  They are mostly women, ages 30 and up, with an aim to keep themselves and their families in good health.  Call it the natural caregiver instinct.  But say you’ve read article after article about preventing cancer or you’ve self-diagnosed yourself using the WebMD diagnostic tool. Wouldn’t you like to know whether it is more likely that you have something as common as food poisoning versus something more severe with similar symptoms?  Wouldn’t you like to know just how likely you are to get cancer in 10 years?  Thanks to Facebook’s open graph, not only can you find out your own personalized risk, you can share it with your friends, and thereby proverbially pass the crystal ball. Your age and gender and location are already there to provide personalization.  The rest of the data is out there as open data, waiting to be personalized.  Once you’ve personalized your risk, you can share what assessed risk with friends. And WebMD can then push you suggested content to read based on your risk assessment.

Say I created a Social Reader application for Facebook. The social reader lists the most popular health videos, emerging health applications and health technologies, interactive data sets, WebMD articles and topics on Twitter from your friends. You see that your friend Jane has read an article about cancer treatments.  This gets you to thinking.  What is my risk for getting cancer in 10 years?  Lucky for you, there’s information out there to help you gain some perspective–a risk chart.  For a 35-year-old woman who smokes or smoked more than a 100 cigarettes in a lifetime, the risk of dying in 10 years from cancer is 1 out of 1000. Want to know what percentage of people suffer from all of those side effects listed in the commercial for a prescription drug you’re taking? There’s a data out there for that. And thanks to Facebook’s open graph interface, you can share what you’ve learned and encourage other people to seek out their personalized risk data on what’s important to them.

So why is this important?  Well, knowing that, for instance, if I take Lunesta I have 16 in 100, or 16 percent, chance of getting an infection such as a cold, will help me arrive at the best health decision I can make.  The point is: you can’t make good health decisions without all the facts, without some bit of perspective on how big of a risk you’re dealing with.  WebMD is a trusted source of information. However, when people are searching for answers to their health troubles, they often sit down to find a diagnosis for a stomach ache and by the end of their interactive experience, they’ve talked themselves into thinking they might have stomach cancer.  Perspective is everything.

Open data on a wide range of health statistics is available from numerous sources.  As a first year Health and Medical Journalism student this year, I read a book that I found to be immensely helpful.  Called “Know Your Chances,” the book teaches readers how to read a news story, understand how big of a risk the topic of a new story may be for people like you and essentially gives readers an opportunity to judge whether or not an article on a new study was really “all that and a bag of chips.”  Anyhow, that’s my idea for WebMD–a social reader with visual, interactive statistical risk assessment tools.  Users gain the knowledge of perspective as a means to make evidence-based health decisions. WebMD gains the possibility to educate people on the statistics of health. It’s a win-win.

In the name of personal health….

It happened all of a sudden. A scratch in my throat. A sudden need to take an early evening nap. A feeling of pressure and congestion in my head. It’s not often that I get sick, but when I do, I Google it.  I don’t have health insurance right now and I quiver at the thought of having to seek medical help if I really need it. And like many people, I rely on the internet to guide me in the right direction.  It’s often the case that we take our own health for granted until we get sick.

As a health and medical journalism student, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own personal health these days.  I’m 27. And while that may seem young, if you’ve been living life a bit haphazardly in your 20s, the health effects will soon become apparent.  For me, this realization came this fall when I returned to UGA for grad school and looked at photos of my skinny, younger self five years earlier in undergrad.

At the age of 19, I fought my own battle with the bulge, so to speak, and dropped my freshmen 15 and then some. I did it through Weight Watchers. And it was a great way to learn about nutrition and portion size.  But at that age, it was easy to just adhere to the diet and skip the exercise.  I lost 30 pounds without ever really incorporating much of a daily fitness habit. The importance of that program, though, is its ability to connect those who are striving for better health with one another. I worked for Weight Watchers for most of my college years, assisting in the arduous process of weighing customers, informing them of that weeks talking points, and encouraging them with some helpful suggestions when the going got tough. That being said, once I stopped working for them, I lost my focus on the importance of managing my own health and lost touch with a whole group of people that had helped me.

I managed to keep it off for two years after college, until the sedentary lifestyle of a desk job in a rural community slowly and eventually had its toll. Not having physical activity as a part of my daily life proved to be detrimental as my metabolism slowed down in my mid-20s too.  Since December, I’ve been seeing a personal trainer, eating a more balanced and calorie controlled diet and working out for three or four days a week.  The trouble is, even with all the social media interaction on health and ample access to science-based studies regarding healthy weight loss, I still lack motivation.

And this, my friends, is why social media is awesome.  I ran across this little tidbit in doing some research the other day and I have great hope in the ability of friends being able to help friends in their battle for better health. Weight loss, addiction, nutrition, mental illness, stress–we all have stories and we all have the ability to provide support to each other as we seek better health.

This was recently featured on the Facebook Developers blog. And it’s great motivation to create an app that could connect those with similar health goals or interest in a way that makes sharing seemless and frictionless, without much effort at all.  Since college, most of my good friends have moved away and are now located all over the United States. We talk by phone, send emails, communicate via Facebook, but a tool like this would really give us the incentive to encourage each other, share our experiences and share relevant web content about whatever it is we’re striving for.  Not too far in the future, a lack in motivation will soon be remedied by our trusty social network friends and mentors.

Another four topics…

So far, it looks like there are some good ideas out there.  Some of the following ideas may overlap with others that have already been posted, but I think we’ll find a consensus amongst the class once we’ve all posted our ideas.  So here goes:

1. The evolution of sharing (i.e. pushing the creep factor):  While I think many company representatives might be excited about the possibilities of this new technology, some of our data methods may be off-putting.  For me, some context could help alleviate any stress about this.  We’ve talked a lot in class about the creep factor and how social media is constantly pushing the envelope as to what people are willing and not so willing to share in the public domain.  That being said, a quick piece on the historical evolution of more and more sharing might help put those who have a “creep factor” problem at ease.

2. Online Consumer Protections Laws in the U.S.: I think we need to address what laws are being proposed that could affect this project going forward.  While this is a potential downside, say if Europe’s laws prevail as the norm, the recent proposal of guidelines for companies is worthy of discussion here.

3. Online Consumer Data Protections Elsewhere: You can’t talk about U.S. online privacy protections without talking about what other countries are doing in terms of data protection.  Europe, China and India may all be worthy of discussion here.

4. The Importance of Transparency, User Control: Recently, the social networking website Path had a bit of a PR crisis on its hands when users were alerted to the fact that their personal data, from their cell phone address books, were being stored by the company.  This example, and several others are out there as well, provide good context about the importance of creating products for our companies that are transparent in their efforts and offer users the ability to have control of their data.

The potential of open graph facebook health apps

So, in looking at the latest wave of open graph Facebook apps, there is an obvious window for health companies, such as WebMD, to introduce a health app that would require minimal manual input on the part of the user.  Traditionally, health apps have required users to input data in order to really make use of the apps, but I’d say that the open graph is an opportunity to not only require less of users, but also give them more of what they want/need in the process.

As we discussed in class, open graph Facebook applications are becoming a great way for company’s to get more website and Facebook traffic and interaction.  Here’s the article on the success of early open graph apps that we talked about in class.  As you can see, the health category has nothing. Zilp. Zinch. Nada.  Another article I found talks about a whole slew of media companies that are jumping on board with the open graph Facebook app movement.  Again, there is no mention of a health-related website or app out there taking advantage of the open graph.  In looking again on Facebook, however, I did find one health-related category: fitness.  There are currently two open graph apps available to users: MapMyFitness and RunKeeper.

I also searched around online and found many, many mobile apps about health.  While most of them focused on food and nutrition, wellness and fitness, they require a lot of from users.  A user must actively want to log in and input information to gain anything from using these apps.

So why is there a delay in getting any sort of health app, beyond the fitness category, out there for users?  It seems like common sense to me.

The Facebook Developer’s website says this about what makes the original apps on the open graph worthwhile for users:

These apps have a few things in common. They’re built around something people care about and identify with, they enable people to share things they want their friends to see, and they provide easy ways to control the social experience.

This gives me a lot to think about in terms of a WebMD opengraph app.  Action words are the key and there are plenty out there to make use of. ConnectedHealth has this to say about the recently released fitness apps and the future of health apps via the Facebook open graph:

The MapMyFitness CEO gets it: “So, whether it’s to boast, find like-minded friends or just share your passion for fitness with your nearest and dearest, we think it’s great that MapMyFITNESS has been so quick to integrate its offering into the new Facebook Timeline, developing an app that makes sharing, collecting and monitoring health and fitness information easy. Just make sure you tailor your settings as soon as you start using the app, if you’re a fitness fanatic even your closest friends might not appreciate 20+ updates a day about your work-outs…!”

On another note, here’s a look at some links about mobile health apps.  Some of the apps are very specific, catering to just one specific health/fitness/wellbeing goal.  I think WebMD has the potential to do something a little more inclusive to “whole health.”

USDA “Let’s Move” Campaign Mobile App Contest

VitalClip: This is an app that actually monitors your health. So cool.  What if this was a Facebook open graph app?

ConnectedHealth: Here’s a list of apps compiled by ConnectedHealth.  There’s some really neat stuff on here.  And I think a lot of these apps will be better utilized using the open graph.

Another look at differences in privacy…

I feel as though this topic has been thoroughly covered by others here, but I was also assigned the topic so bare with me as I provide yet another explanation of why there are big differences in privacy between the United States and Europe. I’m also throwing in China and other potential global economic powers in the mix.

If you think about the political mentalities in both Europe and the United States, there is a definite difference.  As is common in political rhetoric these days, American culture is generally more accepting of the idea that companies can regulate themselves and be responsible.  Not so in Europe.  This article published recently in the Economist provides ample explanation and context for the issue at hand.  A big part of the difference, says the author, is history.

A Eurobarometer poll last year found that 62% of Europeans do not trust internet companies to protect their personal information. A big reason is history. In the 1930s Dutch officials compiled an impressive national registry. This later enabled the Nazis to identify 73% of Dutch Jews, compared with just 25% in less efficient France, notes Viktor Mayer-Schönberger of Oxford University in his book “Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age”.

Even though the United States is proposing new privacy legislation in regards to the data, the political climate, especially given that it’s an election year, make the chances of the bill passing very slim.  All the while, incompatibility between the E.U. and U.S. laws could hinder company’s abilities for interoperability.

Right now, there are obvious differences in the laws.

The ability to provide data protection laws and encourage interoperability may well be the basis of innovations of the future and without ample laws, that innovation could be hindered.  On the other hand, just talking about privacy laws in the U.S. and the E.U. is a moot point if one does not consider the other major players in the global economy, writes the author of the economist piece.

America and Europe will set the global standards. But other countries’ privacy rules matter too. China and India will soon have more people online than Europe and America have citizens. Neither Asian country has yet passed formal national legislation, but both are considering it—with every indication that their new laws will outdo even Europe in their severity.

This week I had the pleasure of viewing this video and then the sequel.  Talk about a world of innovative technology!  It made me wonder what environment would better encourage innovation while also protecting consumer data at a reasonable data.  I still haven’t made up my mind as to whether the EU policy goes too far, but one things for sure, some greater amount of consumer data protection legislation or company policies regarding consumer data protection are needed in the United States if this is what our future will look like.  There’s just too much sensitive data out there–on everything from major health scans and test results and credit card history information to menial data such as a lifetime of Facebook data–that could lead to systematic discrimination.

WebMD Introduction

Dear prospective client,

My name is Jessica Luton and I’m a health and medical journalism graduate student at UGA. As a part of a new media course this semester, our class has been tasked with helping companies just like you make efficient use of the mounds of data that are accessible via Facebook using the Open Graph, a platform in Facebook that allows for frictionless sharing and storage of thousands of pieces of valuable data from users. With this information, our goal is to show your readers that “you really get them.” With this offering, WebMD will be able to offer more personalized health information to their clients, a goal that will most likely result in a strong online social media following and interaction from your readers, as well as increased interaction on the WebMD website.

The idea behind this project is to make use of the information that your readers are already sharing or liking on Facebook.  If a person shared a particular health-related news story, whether it be from WebMD or not, that information could be used to suggest catered and customized content into that person’s news feed.  If a person says they’re tired and drinking lots of coffee via a status update, WebMD could push content to that person about ways to increase their energy or the benefits of coffee.  This is just one example of what big data can do for you and your readers. In essence, WebMD becomes a personalized health coach service, offering up the advice that people need and want based on their interests.

I am fully prepared to spend anywhere from 6 to 12 hours on this project per week. All I need from you is a commitment to an introductory phone conversation, an agreement to no more than 5 emails over the course of the next few months and, further and most importantly, a firm commitment to attend our “Show Off” day on May 5, 2012 where you’ll be able to see my final proposal for the project, polished up and ready to be put into action. Thanks in advance for your willingness to participate in this project.  I sincerely look forward to working with you.

Best regards,
Jessica L. Luton

Big Data, Health and WedMD

Well, I’m home from my trip to California to attend a conference on atrophic macular degeneration as a science writer.  The experience was unlike anything I’ve ever done before, I must say, but at the end of it all I found myself stepping back from all of the medical and scientific jargon and thinking about the big picture.  Atrophic macular degeneration is the biggest cause of blindness in people over 50.  That being said, studying the eye causes a significant challenge for researchers, as it’s next to impossible to take a biopsy from the eye as is possible when studying other tissues.

I sat in a room for three days with the genetics groups as they plotted their course for finding further evidence of the genetic risk of atrophic macular degeneration.  Approximately 50 percent of the genetic risk factors are known, thanks to recent findings in research, but geneticists are struggling to pin down the rest of this risk  because the tissue is difficult to get a hold of immediately following a patient’s death and the remaining genetic risk factors are likely to be rare and varying, requiring a larger collection of population data to find any sort of genetic pattern.  The solution?  My group suggested an eye tissue bank as a means for collaboration with other research studies to collect an aggregate of genetic knowledge about AMD that will hopefully show patterns in genetics to help locate the rest of the genetic risk.

So…what’s the big deal?  They’re using all of this data to find a cure for this disease.  And it got me thinking about the future of big data and healthcare.  I’ve been assigned WebMD as my company and while I’m up to the challenge, it certainly seems like a murky subject.  Thanks to regulations protecting patient data, connecting this data socially via Facebook seems to have created a particularly tricky position for companies like WebMD. There’s no Facebook Connect option with the WebMD website. And they reached 100,000 Facebook fans today, despite being one of the top health websites.

They recently released a very popular app for the iPhone called WebMD baby. And they do have personalized health record keeping and a weight loss and food tracker with a WebMD account.

The Washington Post had this to say about the future of healthcare and big data. It seems that no one has been able to crack the code in terms of getting people to participate who are both healthy and combating an illness, an issue that can be problematic if you’re trying to analyze data for replicable use in science.

The frictionless approach of Facebook, at least for WebMD, could prove to be useful, at least in terms of health and wellness at a preventative level.  I’ve been thinking about the possibilities.  How can people’s actions and reading preferences be used in a way that is both useful and helpful to them, without necessarily advertising embarrassing or otherwise private health conditions to all of your friends?  With the new action settings, does Facebook have the potential to monitor your healthy and unhealthy actions based on status updates.

Say you post a status update about your lack of sleep, over-consumption of coffee and general stress from grad school. (That’s every other Facebook status for me.)  If I were WebMD, I could refer you to articles that provide basic information on how to combat stress in a healthy way, the health effects of not getting enough sleep or the negative or positive effects of drinking lots of coffee.  WebMD has a treasure trove of health information at hand, and while much of that content is there ready for a user to find it, a lot of people go to WebMD to use the symptom checker when they have a cold or to seek out further information if they’ve recently been diagnosed with a disease. This would provide personalized content based on your reading habits.

But what if WebMD could keep you on track for staying healthy and give you recommendations based on your actions to help you live a more healthful life.  Would this work?  Would people use it?  I don’t know.  But it would A. give the user a benefit of better health information and B. give WebMD more hits on its website, which results in better leverage to attract advertisers.

WebMD isn’t selling the company anymore, so that’s somewhat positive news.

However, I’m not entirely sure that using Facebook is a solution for WebMD beyond preventative information.  Big Data, it seems, is the wave of the future for healthcare, as genomic data and medical histories are aggregated and used to provide personalized medical care based on genetic risk, etc. People sharing their medical histories and genetic data via social media, for me at least, is the ultimate line for the creep factor.

Incorporating something like this new NYT project could be useful for preventative medicine and WebMD perhaps. Imagine having some sort of facebook app that allows you to set health goals, allows the WebMD app to monitor your actions, likes, and readings and then gives you personalized recommendations on healthier actions, or different scientific-data related stories to provide a differing perspective on health based on some other health article you read (science is, afterall, written in pencil, not pen).

Looking forward to feedback from anyone here.  I’d give WebMD access to my habits in exchange for a preventative medicine  Personal Health Coach, so to speak.  Would you?  Let me know your thoughts and comments please.  Sorry for the long post.  It helps to type all of these thoughts out.

Chick-fil-a Connections

In thinking about Chick-fil-a over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself thinking about what the company stands for and why those people who are regular Chick-fil-a consumers are so loyal to what is seemingly just another fast food restaurant.  A couple of things come to mind:

1. Chick-fil-a goes out of their way to provide quality food and great customer service.  (“My pleasure,” the drive-through attendee always says.)

2. Chick-fil-a is open to providing food for both those who want to eat healthy and those who are a little more haphazard in their eating habits.

3. It’s a family environment.  Mothers often arrange play dates for their children here and whole families come to enjoy the food and each others company.

4. CFA provides customers with a sense of community.  Particularly in small towns, CFA is known for holding community fundraising events to help out local children’s groups, nonprofits groups, etc.

5. CFA is the epitomy of southern much so that people who now live outside of the south seek out Chick-fil-a as a means to satisfy a small bit of home sickness for the place they once called home.

So, what does this mean for permeable data?  Here’s my idea: I’ll call it Chick-fil-a Connect.  Say your single friend in Chicago is an avid Chick-fil-a fan. Say she “likes” CFA on Facebook.  What if there was an app that could suggest other people who also like CFA?  What if those results then also analyzed other interests and suggested people who she knows (or may not know?) who live nearby?  It sounds a little like CFA, but that’s not my intention.  The intention is to connect people through their love of CFA.  Southerners in northern states could connect and meet up for lunch.  Moms could set up play dates with other mothers who enjoy spending time at CFA.  You could even match people up based on their interests in philanthropy, suggesting that people meet up with others who have supported the same CFA supported causes.  One other aspect could connect two long distance friends, giving them an idea of where the closest CFA is between them.  Just as the Delta “I miss you project” showed the amount of money it’d cost to see a friend via a plane, CFA could help people spend time with their friends by suggesting how long of a drive it’d take to meet up with your friend at a CFA somewhere between where both people reside.

I’m not sure that I explained this as eloquently as I would have liked, but the basic tenant is to use people’s interest in CFA and other things to connect people face to face. My idea began as I read a friend’s post about how he and his wife make time for each other with CFA data nights.  If you helped people develop this habit, not only as merely a romantic date, but as any kind of “date” (friends, business, neighbors, etc.), you run the chance of helping people develop a long-term habit, thereby securing further loyalty to the company.  Thoughts anyone?

I can’t be in class on Thursday, as I’ll be in California for a science writing fellowship at a conference.  I welcome your ideas, thoughts and feedback via this blog, on my facebook page, via email ( or even via Twitter (@jluton). I want to hear feedback.  And any updates on what was discussed in class on Thursday would be great.  Many thanks.  -JL

Defining open data

This week for this class I was asked to write about open data.  After attending Science Online 2012 (#scio12) this past week, it is obvious to me that one of the main advocates for open data are those within the science field.  This NYTimes article talks about open science, its importance and even, drumroll please….the conference I attended over the weekend.  The push to make more scientific data open and available, both in the form of results and raw data, is based on the premise that open access to this information could progress the field of science, connecting researchers all over the world, and allowing them to compare results, methodologies and have discussions.  If there’s one thing I learned at the conference, and there were many takeaways from this technology-driven unconference, it is that many scientists believe in the ideals of open science.  Data are also made open for the use of science bloggers and these bloggers often connect with the scientists themselves and have the ability, through open access to so many different types of research online, to find the context that’s necessary to paint a whole picture for readers of science blogs and science-related articles.  While I was there, I met everyone from scientists, science PR specialists, former scientists turned bloggers, bloggers turned scientists and even the average Joe with an appetite for science. Want to know more about open science?  Here’s a link to a session on the topic at last year’s conference:

Now, back to the general topic of open data.  What is it?  And how is it useful?  First off, there are several definitions of open data, however the general idea behind the term is basically the same:

According to Wikipedia:

Open data is the idea that certain data should be freely available to everyone to use and republish as they wish, without restrictions from copyright, patents or other mechanisms of control. The goals of the open data movement are similar to those of other “Open” movements such as open source, open content, and open access. The philosophy behind open data has been long established (for example in the Mertonian tradition of science), but the term “open data” itself is recent, gaining popularity with the rise of the Internet and, especially, with the launch of open-data government initiatives such as

Open data, as it stands now, is mainly available in the field of science, but much of the data that’s out there, the raw data that’s free and open to the public to use, actually comes from governments.  So, what the heck is open data good for?  With generally available data for all to see, data can be compiled for interactive use for many different purposes. Take a look at this TED talk and you’ll see just a few examples of how this kind of data is being used.

According to this UK government website, open data is defined as:

The idea behind open data is that information held by government should be freely available to use and re-mix by the public. It’s a movement to make non-personal data:

  • open so that it can be turned into useful applications
  • support transparency and accountability
  • make sharing data between public sector partners more efficient.

The Government is committed to making much more public data openly available. On 22 March 2010, the Prime Minister announced that the Government was going to:

“…use digital technology to open up data with the aim of providing every citizen in Britain with true ownership and accountability over the services they demand from government.”

Current and planned initiatives include:

  •, which is a single, easy-to-use website for access to 3,000 public data sets
  • the Office for National Statistics (ONS) opening up access to over two billion data items at the local neighbourhood level.

The UK government has done a lot with the data they’ve made open and available to the public.  Check out what they offer here.

The U.S. has a similar website, with interactive data sets, raw data sets and apps, just as in the UK.  You can check out all of that data here.

To take a look a little closer to home, check out Georgia’s open data website:

I hope that provides a good overview of what exactly open data is and why it is useful. I’m amazed at just how much raw data is out there and the thought crosses my mind that only a fraction of this data is probably being used in an efficient way.