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The Missing Voices in Open Data Discussions

get started 2There is an excitement and focus on the potential of open data; but, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a good number of people in the trenches developing sharper thought and faster iterations – trying to build an infrastructure (business models, components, skills, etc.) that can help sustain the good work. This is a full degree removed from the “cool” factor that surrounds app talk. No disrespect to cool; but, it still needs a platform. In this article, Saha Hammari considers a human infrastructure need in the open data space: Makers need to meet. Find out what he means by that here.

Cities, nonprofits, and companies of all sizes are opening up their data in hopes that it will generate innovative new tools and financial returns. But, as many have come to learn, publishing data isn’t enough to incentivize great developers and designers to use that data to generate new apps, projects, and startups. How do companies that succeed in attracting developers to use their data do it, and how can every nonprofit, city and company do the same?

A Place for Developers, Designers, and Passionate Makers to Meet

Organizations that have APIs that developers love – Google, Apple, Foursquare, Flickr, and Sunlight Foundation, to name a few – have a few things in common. First, they promote their APIs. Second, they have high quality APIs that are accessible (meaning their APIs are easy to use, reliable, and they provide great support and documentation). Those are the basic, necessary ingredients that every organization needs to attract developers. But, just as importantly, these organizations also build spaces where developers, designers, and thinkers can meet one another and start conversations. These conversations are what lead to great teams that, in turn, build new apps on top of their respective APIs. Ultimately this is what leads to impact and revenue for organizations that provide APIs, which makes them both cost effective while and an engine for innovation.

What do these conversational spaces look like? New York City has NYC BigApps. Apple and Google have their developer conferences. Twilio and Foursquare host hackathons around the world. And universities are natural conversation spaces for cities. These are places where people meet the cofounders, collaborators, and instigators needed to actually build something new. More and more, companies, cities and nonprofits are providing online spaces that enable the formation of great new teams and apps. So far, the results are very promising..

Hacker Spaces Need Not Be Physical

Companies like eBay and Flickr, Cities like New York and Saint Petersburg, and nonprofits like Cleanweb are turning to online spaces created by our company CollabFinder, for example, to facilitate real, actionable conversation between the individuals interested in building apps and projects on top of their APIs. A scientist interested in building a new app using the eBay API, for example, can now post her project idea to the eBay Group on CollabFinder and team up with skilled designers and programmers interested in helping her build her project. The users of that team’s new app will produce new revenue and traffic for eBay, which makes the expense of creating one of these online spaces a no-brainer.

Documentation Isn’t Enough

Another way of putting the key difference between organizations that successfully attract developer enthusiasm and those that don’t is that the former actively engages the developer world and creates community spaces where developers can bump into one another, share ideas, and eventually collaborate on new projects through their shared interests in an organization’s APIs. Rather that just publishing documentation for their APIs and waiting and hoping that people will build new apps and projects that leverage it, the former group of companies are using conferences, hackathons, CollabFinder Groups and other tools to give people who might not be able or motivated to build an app on their own to team up with like minded people and build more and better projects together. And it’s working. Mayor Bloomberg in New York City has spoken about the effectiveness of the CollabFinder platform, for example, in helping the City produce more and better apps using City data.

The missing voices in open data discussions are those of makers talking with one another for the first time. If your organization wants talented people to build on top of your APIs and data, give the people interested in your mission or technology a place to meet one another. Great things will happen.


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