The New Internet: Open Data Network

April 20, 2015 12:10 pm PST | Data as a Service

Socrata’s Open Data Network is building an ecosystem of people using data, including government data publishers, businesses, tech developers, and citizens. It’s a platform for a new Internet, “to liberate the network effects of data,” explains Ian Kalin, Socrata’s former director of Open Data and current Chief Data Officer for the U.S. Commerce Department. He’s joined at the 2014 Socrata Customer Summit by Luis Poggi of Zillow, Director of Product Management, New Ventures, and Ross Goldenberg, Partner and Co-Founder of SiteCompli.


Success Comes from Community

Kalin presents a basic question of open data: Is it important to identify the data publisher at the point of search? “What if you don’t care?” he asks, pointing out that many users just want the freedom to search. “The most important aspect of the open data network,” he states, is, “the community that we have openly assembled, to see how we can work together.” Socrata and its partners are working to build the ecosystem, “so that as more people participate, we can extract exponential more value out of it.”

Zillow: Data on Fire

Kalin introduces Poggi, who quickly shows the data powerhouse that is Zillow: “Monthly more than 80 million unique users come to buy, sell, check their home’s value, to get a mortgage, to rent a home.” He continues, “We have a mission to empower all these users with home-related data,” and highlights how the availability of government records makes Zillow’s existence possible. “We believe we are just beginning this journey,” with Socrata and partners in government, Poggi states.

Poggi explains how the quality of government housing data varies widely, even sometimes coming to Zillow on paper. “It’s not easy, accessible for us, so we started to work on one area specifically – permit data.” 

Give the Data to the People

“For a buyer, it’s incredibly useful” to have permit data a few clicks away, Poggi demonstrates, walking the audience through a demo. Buyers can immediately learn if a remodeled home is short a permit or two, and that dramatically impacts offers. The effect is huge for citizens, since average American homebuyers invest a whopping percentage of their savings and incomes in purchasing a home.

On the other side, notes Poggi, sellers want to show off all the improvements they’ve made. Sometimes even with a permit, this data isn’t updated in the government stacks by sale time. Zillow’s answering that challenge with Zestimate, a combination of public record and user input. Not only can it help sellers present full portrayals of their property, it also can help homeowners assess whether to remodel or move.

“We want to put all this information at their fingertips,” Poggi declares. Kalin drives home the point. “Data by itself is useless; you cannot eat it, you cannot drink it,” he reflects, but, “open data pioneers like Zillow take it and put it into the hands of people.” 

Inside the Ecosystem

Next, Goldenberg of SiteCompli discusses the interdependence between government data publishers and data entrepreneurs. He enthuses, “We need you guys to create value,” in the data, and, “you need our participation to effectuate the changes that you are trying to make,” in publishing data for the community.

Goldenberg demonstrates his point with an example of an engineer who tracks elevator code and ensures compliance in his clients’ buildings. Increasingly, he spends his time, “hunting and pecking for government data,” and producing reports on new municipal codes and potential violations. Meanwhile, government inspectors are saddled with trying to ensure compliance through a maze of codes and buildings. Government, the engineer, building owners, and citizens all want the same thing: safe elevators. However, “they’re unable to communicate effectively,” so owners have a harder time maintaining their elevators, and the government has a harder time ensuring safety.

Automation for Innovation

SiteCompli streamlines the communication, Goldenberg explains, by uniting municipal codes with inspection timelines and other compliance data. Building owners and their engineers can then focus on actual elevator maintenance, and the enforcement overload is eased for inspectors busy chasing down violations. The big win: improved elevator safety for citizens.

Goldenberg then highlights the promise of the open data triangle of government, companies, and communities. With governments openly publishing data, companies like Zillow and SiteCompli, “innovating with it, and everyone learning from each other,” the benefit to the public is phenomenal.

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