Open Data 500: Help Gather Data About Open Data

In September the GovLab announced the launch of the Open Data 500  project – the first extensive study of companies that use open government data as a business resource. The study, funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, is designed to identify, describe, and analyze companies that use open government data in their businesses. Open data is free, public data that anyone can use to launch commercial and nonprofit ventures, do research, make data-driven decisions, and solve complex problems.

The goal of the study is to:

  • Provide a basis for assessing the value of government data
  • Help encourage the development of new open data companies; and
  • Foster a dialogue between government and business on how government data can be made more useful.

The Open Data 500 project, which I direct, has consulted with a wide range of experts, done extensive online research, invited ideas from the thousands of people in the GovLab network, and done more to identify U.S.-based companies using government data in innovative ways. Yesterday, we published our initial working list of 500 companies that we believe are candidates for the final roster. We’re also posting in-depth profiles of 50 of the first companies to fill out our detailed survey– a sample of the kind of information that will be available when our final study is published in early 2014.

The project has gotten some welcome interest from all kinds of companies, from experts and researchers, from Information Week, and even from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer Nick Sinai and his senior advisor, Erie Meyer, wrote a blog post yesterday giving a nod to our efforts. The Open Data 500, they wrote, “shines a spotlight on a surprising array of innovative and creative ways that open government data is being used to grow the economy – across different company sizes, different geographies, and different industries.” I found the same economic potential for Open Data in my new book, Open Data Now, which is being published next month.

Here are some of our preliminary findings:

  • Economic value: Open Data is a new and emerging resource that is generating new businesses across the U.S.
  • Covering many sectors: These Open Data companies are building economic value in many parts of the economy, including health, energy, transportation, finance, and others.
  • Large and small, old and new: The list of companies includes startups and established businesses, ranging in size from one-person operations to companies with thousands of employees.
  • Many ways to succeed: These companies are using a range of business models, including advertising, revenue from sales of services, and others.
  • Making government data work better: Open Data companies use state, city, and many kinds of federal data – and their experience ranges from excellent to frustrating.  Through the Open Data 500 study, companies are providing candid feedback on their experience with government data, which the GovLab plans to use to start a new dialogue between data suppliers and data users.

We now need your help to move from these early results to a more definitive picture of the Open Data landscape for U.S. business. As part of the GovLab’s commitment to openness ourselves, we’re making databases of the information we publish downloadable on the Open Data 500 site. More than that, we’re now crowdsourcing the study, asking experts, members of the public, and companies themselves to engage with our work and help us develop the study further. Here’s how you can participate when you go to the Open Data 500 website:

  • If you represent an Open Data company: Please fill out our survey (if you haven’t already) to tell us about your company, the data you use, your goals, and your operations.
  • If you have information about a company on our list: please use the Comment button for that company to tell us about it, or email us at
  • If you have general information to share –such as recommending a company or giving us other information – please add to our general forum, tweet your comments to #OD500, or email us at

At the GovLab, we see Open Data as one of the key ways that city, state, and national governments can connect with their citizens and help them create new ventures. “The Open Data 500 study embodies the goals and work of the GovLab,” says Beth Simone Noveck, the GovLab’s founder and director. “The mission of the GovLab is to improve people’s lives by changing how we govern, using advances in science and technology. With the huge advances in data science that we’re seeing today, national, state, and local governments have an opportunity to release data that can immediately be put to use for business, research, and job creation.”

In addition to creating profiles of 500 U.S.-based open-data companies in the current study:

  • The GovLab is beginning a parallel study of UK-based companies that use open government data in collaboration with the London-based Open Data Institute.
  • Representatives of more than a dozen other nations have expressed interest in working with the GovLab to adapt the study to their countries.
  • The GovLab is exploring collaborations with state government to study open data companies on a state by state basis.
  • The Open Data 500 team is collecting examples of nonprofit organizations that use open data, for a possible future study.
  • Finally, the GovLab is planning to use the results of the Open Data 500 study to improve the use of government data – for example, by presenting the results to IT leaders in government, convening companies together with government agencies that provide their data, or setting up online groups and forums on how government data can be made more useful.

Watch this blog for updates on the Open Data 500 as our work moves ahead.

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