Open data companies becoming #STRATAfied?

By Alex Joseph, Executive Director, Water and Environment Hub

It was just over a year ago that the inaugural O'Reilly Strata Conference was held in Silicon Valley, USA. At that time, organizers were overwhelmed by the interest and volume of registrations. Those high turnout numbers, combined with the energy and vibe of excitement that percolated across the various sessions, inspired the O'Reilly group to organize a second Strata Conference six months later on the east coast. Reviews suggested that this event further stoked the open data fire.

While this year's western Strata conference, held Feb. 28 to March 1, had double the number of attendees (2,500) as last year, the vibe felt more subdued. The crowd appeared to be older and more "executive", with less developers there to observe. Big vendors like Oracle, Microsoft, and IBM were more involved, and exhibitor booths from the likes of EMC indicated the dollars that are now at stake.

Expo Hall at Strata 2012 in Santa Clara, CA. 
Photograph © pinar@pinarozger.com

One of the plenary presenters made the observation that leaders in this tech space have embraced the idea that data external to their organization (e.g. purchases made by users) is critical to their evolution and success. These companies have re-designed their systems to accumulate and analyze external data from customers, peers, and suppliers, in real time. This has allowed them to make decisions and modify their internal operations to best address and take advantage of the rapidly evolving marketplace. Most enterprises, though not at this stage, are beginning to embrace the benefits and challenges that big data brings, and are focusing resources on releasing internal company data to move more seamlessly within their organization. Dealing with vast quantities of external data is still out of reach for most enterprises.

MetaLayer's Jonathan Gosier showcased a flexible web dashboard that allows one to organize various data views and run quick analytics via drag and drop. For my part, I think this fluid, flexible dashboard could have a large following if the same technology could be applied to the Water and Environmental Hub's data (e.g. flood forecasting dashboard).

Pachube's Usman Haque talked about the proposed "Internet of Things" Bill of Rights,  which he said is becoming increasingly necessary to ensure that the 'openness of data' continues as more mobile devices connect to the Internet and share information:

"When data is generated through the activities of people doing things inside their homes and outside in public in their cities, the question of who owns the data becomes almost irrelevant next to the questions of who has access to the data, what do they do with it, and how do citizens manage and make sense of their data while retaining the 'openness' that we've seen drive creativity and business on the web over the last few years."

Google's Hal Varian, one of the original data scientists, walked the crowd through a funexercise in analytics and graphics using Google Trends and Google Insights, showcasing the powerful tools that are increasingly at our fingertips.

Another indication that open data has matured significantly in the past year was one session on privacy entitled: "If data wants to be free, is privacy a prison?" At last year's Strata, the topic of privacy would likely have included a few companies describing their approach or response, whereas at this year's event, there were PhD's in law, and engineers specializing in the legal aspects of open data and privacy. They debated a host of case studies, to which the crowd was not a distant observer but rather embedded, aware players as they reflected upon the recent Google Privacy Policy update.

I find O'Reilly events to be highly relevant and increasingly valuable for understanding the Water and Environmental Hub's place in the rapidly evolving open data space. And although much of the Strata Conference content can be found on the web, there is no substitute for the time invested in "being" at these events and having a chance to focus, contribute and reflect.