What shall I do with Open Data

Here below you can find the text of the speech that I gave during an expert panel on Open Data taking place on October 17th at “A. Capitini – Vittorio Emanuele II – A. di Cambio” upper secondary school located in Perugia (Italy), which education on technological, economic and touristic subjects.

[The Italian original text is available here.]

Today I’m here to talk about “what we shall do with Open Data”.

Let’s start analyzing the terms Open and Data.

OPEN comes from the Latin word Apertum, past participle of aperire (to open).

(Here we are not at a lyceum. However, revising our knowledge of Latin and old Greek is valuable).

In any Italian language dictionary, for example the Garzanti one, you can find various definitions:

–          Wide, large, spacious

–          Evident, obvious, manifest

–          Sincere, frank, communicative

–          Broad-minded

–          Not finished, allowing further development.


I’m having this talk here today because the current technological revolution is opening new opportunities for the world. As a matter of fact, I’ve been promoting open source since ten years and I consider openness as the essential element of my actions.

According to me, what really matters is open knowledge.

All of us learn things from other people and their experiences, taking them as references, copying, enriching and transforming them into our deliverable artefacts. Computer scientists just do so, when they write software code. And so book writers, painters, all creative and active people. Now I’ll go back to a concept that I presented in this room last February: OPENNESS includes four main terms.

The first one is TRANSPARENCY.

Transparency lays you bare. We should live with integrity, or at least try to, in order to increase trustworthiness, which is crucial in human relationships, even over the net.

COLLABORATION: openness means breaking down barriers, networking, building bridges, working together. In a word, openness means collaboration.

Openness is about FREEDOM. Not just having freedom, but mainly “empowering” people. Knowledge is power. Sharing knowledge means bringing freedom to the world.

Openness enables VALUE CREATION. You may think it’s not so obvious, however I do believe that all our actions must be intended to make the world better, and the open source philosophy provides a clear witness of this. To this end, our actions mustn’t be self-oriented. They must have a reason; they must create new value.

I am sure you will understand, I’m not talking about dollars or euros. Not only about them, at least!

And now let’s talk about data.

Datum (again from Latin) means a fact, a known item. Let’s keep this in mind!

The datum is the basic description of an object, an activity, a fact. Raw data refers to a code and a format.

I’m not focused on data per-se, but on data life-cycle. (Here again I’m referring to what I said last February.)


Specifically, I said that DATA are basic descriptions, the ingredients of a more complex item. For example, a name, a street and a number.


Putting them together, we get a piece of information: the address.

This is certainly a step forward, but something is still missing. Just like the pie must bake in the oven, our information is not ready for use yet.


And now the pie is ready! It’s beautiful, I hope.

What was missing is a nice presentation, which makes the result interesting (now we are dealing with mouth-watering).

The presentation is what makes information knowledgeable. It allows you to analyze it and, at the end, to use it. Going back to my previous example, a presentation can be an old telephone book or an on-line address book helping you to find your final destination. It can also be a Google map to get them represented on a map, or something else.


Then you eat your nice pie, which made your mouth water, and at the end you have a few crumbs left. This is the key point!

Information generate KNOWLEDGE, which is absorbed by our bodies, which are intended to generate further knowledge.

At this point, you should be able to see what open data are.


Do you remember the photo of the presentation cover included in my presentation, where I imagined to see the Capitini-Volta-Di Cambio students? (What a long name you have!)

Open data are you! It’s open knowledge!

What I want to point out now is that at school you must acquire notions and techniques, learn how to use technologies, use data for your researches on economy or tourism.

But this is not the key point!

Consider that the man who is speaking to you now uses and develops technologies that extract value from a huge amount of digital information produced everyday by companies, organizations and, most of all, made available on the net.

Technologies are the means to an end!

Be aware of the wide range of OPPORTUNITIES and POSSIBILITIES coming from data – do you remember my initial sentences? – and above all, consider data as an enchanting word! Discover the creative power inside of you, and create value from data.

Don’t take shortcuts. Don’t stop looking for something new. As Steve Jobs said: be hungry, of novelties, of future!

Let’s go back to the initial matter: “What I shall do with open data”.

I really don’t know. As a consequence, I cannot suggest you anything. What I know is that you can get the answer if you start looking for it with the proper attitude. I know you’ll get it! Nowadays, no-one knows what shall be do with open data. Guys, don’t believe those who pretend to give you examples, don’t believe me either!

Those who provide you with examples only describe the initial steps of what you can actually do today. For instance, smartphone services showing bus arrival times when you are at the bus stop, or the location of the pub where you can find the best beer at the right price (Perugia is not only about chocolate! Last time I tasted here a very cool new local beer!). Or again, the quickest way to the pub!

That’s today’s world!

Open data, open information sharing, big data technologies give us the opportunity to change the world, and you can and must do it! You only need to open your mind!

Actually, I should conclude now, considering that I said I would have not given any further example… But we are at school, so I’ll turn into a teacher and go back to my promise!

I said you mustn’t focus on data, but on your capabilities, talents and passions. Your creativity will help you identify the right way to use data.

Are you keen on journalism? Someone is changing it!


As you can see, that’s a very topical issue at present, where news don’t come from words, but from data presenting facts – do you remember the Latin term “datum”? – in a clear and intuitive way. Showing details, they drive you through different analysis.

This way data are placed at the center of the news. It’s not just a new way to write news or to practice one’s graphic attitudes. It’s a new way to do research, journalistic inquiries, provide deep insights and communicate.

Data are naked, transparent, open! Fortunately, data make it more difficult to hide facts! News are “more true”! A viaticum for real investigation journalism, which is sparkling and especially less at the service of those who have the power.

That was my example. Now it’s your turn. Create the others by yourselves!

Thank you!