In this context „open“ equals the meaning of „free“ or „libre“. Open data therefore means data that it is free and can generally be used, shared and distributed by anyone.
The most important characteristics of open data are:
Availability and Access:
In a best case scenario, the data would be available by download over the internet, as one whole package and free of charge, although the appropriate charge of reproduction costs is acceptable.
Re-use and Redistribution:
Re-use and redistribution must be allowed. Therefore the data must have an open license, which means that the use, redistribution, modification, compilation and any other kind of non-criminal usages of the data has to be permitted. In turn the data cannot have a license that restricts any of these purposes.
Furthermore, the data must have an open format, which means that the data cannot contain any additional technological barriers that will prohibit anyone from modifying it. That includes that a machine has to be able to read the data, it has to exist as a complete set and the format of the data should be freely available. If there are restrictions on the software needed to use or read the data, there has to be an open source tool that can be used as an alternative.
Every must be permitted to use the data equally, no favor of race, sex or age groups. There should not be any discrimination against any person or group of people for any reason. Not even a restriction for non-commercial as opposed to commercial or special allowances for educational purposes or something similar.
The possibilities of an open data concept are very wide especially where data from e.g. the government is concerned. It is especially interesting because by law a lot of data collected by the government has to be open to the public. The government has a huge abundance of data and making it freely accessible to everyone could encourage a lot of different things.
Example 1: If people knew what their taxes are being used for then they would either recognize the need for the taxes or they may be encouraged to get politically involved if they do not like what their tax money is being spent on. Such concepts of transparency have already been put into practice in Finland and Britain amongst others.
Example 2: Transparency of knowledge has also shown to be able to help a single person’s life. Whether it is where to find the next public toilet, the closest park to walk your dog, housing that is close to your workplace and at the same time in a beautiful area or an alarm that rings when the air quality around you drops below a specified value. All these examples use open data provided by the government.
Already there are lots of cases in which open data is a valuable opportunity, but the potential is still great and intangible and every new insight can result in a whole new area of possibilities. This potential can only be exploited if government data is turned into real open data by the definition of no restrictions above because restriction builds barriers and the full potential will only be reached without these barriers.