Dispatch from the deployment of the Open Data Network
On July 15th, one of the most popular housing information platforms, Zillow, announced that it was joining a dozen other organizations in the launch of something called the Open Data Network. Zillow’s objective was to help people to more easily find reliable and high quality answers to questions about homes. Obviously, people have been asking and answering housing questions for centuries. But what made this particular announcement so interesting is that it marks a systemic shift in the way technology is empowering people to find and use data. The breakthrough is that Zillow joined a community that is disrupting the notion that relevant data must only be found at the publishing source. Instead, by leveraging a network of digital links and connections that are seamless for the end user, people can effortlessly take advantage of the exponentially growing volume of data.
Historically, the value of networked technologies is easy to identify. From industrial examples such as the broad adoption of telephones to recent examples such as Facebook, it is easy to see how each additional node on a network increases the aggregate value of that network. The scale of Zillow’s initiative has equal precedent. Housing information is just the start. What’s really happening on the Open Data Network is a liberation of data that was previously unpublished, unsearchable, unreadable, inaccessible, non-standardized, incomplete, inaccurate, and incompatible. The infrastructure for data exchange has been present for years, but now there are sufficient resources from the open data movement to fuel a new technological breakthrough in information access. Just as the World Wide Web was invented years after the Internet came into existence, the Open Data Network is building on the foundation of open data to fuel new types of products and services.
As with the early days of the World Wide Web, the Open Data Network is convening open meetings with interested innovators to talk about the best way to make this emerging system work. In the months since the launch of the Open Data Network, Zillow has joined discussions with companies like SiteCompli, Civic Insight, Appallicious, BasicGov, Ontodia, DRiVEdecisions, and Buildingeye to talk about how they can collectively help people seeking answers to their housing questions. The discussion topics range from highly technical debates about interoperability, taxonomies, protocols, and formats to more operational questions on governance, and philosophical questions such as the applicability of open source software code. Through a coincidence of business timing, Zillow also acquired their chief competitor, Trulia, which is already consuming open data from places such as San Francisco to inform homebuyers about safety and health violations of specific homes. Data transformations like this continue between every member of the Open Data Network and fuel the ongoing meetings. Combined with the public support for the growing open data system, an onlooker to the front lines of the Open Data Network would see data exchanges, convenings, and transparent support as being the three aspects of Open Data Network membership.
The future of the Open Data Network is as uncertain as the early days of the World Wide Web. Zillow is just one of the many organizations experimenting with the best ways to scale this kind of networked impact. If it takes off, as early pioneers expect, it will transform the way data fuels decisions across every industry.