Open Data Institute goes global, with nodes opening up across U.S. and elsewhere

A few months ago, the UK’s Open Data Institute (ODI) – a government-funded company that helps to open up publicly-funded datasets and that also incubates startups in the field – told Gigaom that governments around the world were keen to emulate the model in their countries.

This is now happening. On Tuesday, the ODI (which is co-led by web inventor Tim Berners-Lee) announced the beginning of what it said would become a “substantial international open data network,” starting with 13 “ODI nodes” around the world. Two of these are beta-phase national centers of excellence, in the U.S. and Canada, that will work with the public sector, non-governmental organizations and the private sector.

Eight (Dubai, Chicago, North Carolina, Paris, Trento, Manchester, Brighton and Leeds) are city- or region-based nodes that will undertake research and development, provide training and publish data with an ODI Open Data Certificate, which is a standardized way of describing the data’s format, update regularity and so on.

Three more, in Moscow, Buenos Aires and Gothenburg, are so-called “communications nodes” that are effectively starter nodes – they currently lack the resources to do much beyond open data outreach, but the ODI hopes they will become fully-fledged with time.

The U.S. nodes are certainly timely – in May, President Obama ordered the federal government to make its data open and machine-readable by default. ODI USA founder Waldo Jaquith said in a statement on Tuesday:

“The United States has a vibrant, fast-growing open data ecosystem. The ODI provides a model that can help to catalyse and connect the organizations, governments, businesses, and individuals who are doing brilliant work with open data. It’s time to bring the ODI model to the United States.”

That sums up the main benefit of open data, namely the ability to connect different organizations and services in a more efficient way – this kind of interoperability makes it a darn sight easier to move government functions online, for a start. The concept also aids official transparency to a degree, although making publicly-funded data open by default doesn’t equate to opening up all publicly-funded data. Don’t expect to build an app that plugs into the NSA’s databases anytime soon, for example.

Connecting private companies to public data can also stimulate the development of new tools and even aid investigations in the public interest. OpenCorporates provides a great example of this – the company, which comes out of ODI incubation in London, combines public corporate data from around the world to make it much easier to track how these firms avoid taxes.

Various technology outfits are also eyeing up the emerging open data market from the supplier perspective. Just the other day, SkySQL told me it was trying to position its MariaDB database as ideal for open data, due to its interoperability with a multitude of storage engines.