It’s all about content – open data and the web

Although visual presentation is what I love about the web, from design and typography to photography and user experience, there’s no denying that without information, there would be no internet at all. The whole point of the web is to disseminate and share information, and access to this information is the reason why there is a field called “web design”.

A flurry of activity on Twitter this week has brought the phrase “open data” to my attention. I’m late to the party, but it sounds like a fascinating topic of resources. When coming up with ideas for new websites or coming up with a use for a new design idea, a reason for a website or for an app often slows the initial impetus for a designer or front-end coder.

Sure, you have this great idea for a design, but what to use it for?

Open data may be the answer… but what is open data? From the Open Data Handbook:

Open data is data that can be freely used, re-used and redistributed by anyone – subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and share-alike.

That means that there are data sources out there which are provided as a basis on which other people can build solutions, apps and websites. Open data sources are, perhaps, not as reliable as an officially sponsored and guaranteed data sources, but they are gaining momentum. They are, in many cases, becoming official data sources, as the providers see the much wider value of unlocking a door previously locked by fees and outmoded licensing requirements.

AaretemperaturAn example is the weather data available from Swiss bathing portal WieWarm.ch, which I came across last year. Various bathing places – swimming pools, lidos and the like – all provide data to the site, which is then, in turn, displayed as a guide for the keen swimmer.

We at Satzart like a dip in the river, so I built a very simple JavaScript widget for our company intranet, shown on the right here, to let colleagues know whether an outing to our local river over lunchtime is a good idea. Using the regularly-updated information from Marzili, the widget pulls data via a simple API and is a great example of how using open data can benefit a website, app or service.

There are a steadily-increasing number of open data sources on the web: not just semi-independent ones, but also official data from providers like the Swiss government, transport authority SBB CFF FFS, and Stadt Zürich. For a very wide range and depth of information on the whole topic – especially with an international focus – start with the Open Knowledge Foundation or with opendata.ch in Switzerland.