I came across this quote:

The coolest thing to do with your data will be thought of by someone else

attributed to Rufus Pollack, in a in a post on the Talis blog, Nodalities. Absolutely, couldn't agree more. The point is not so much whether this statement might be true or not, so much as what it does to your thinking and planning if you decide to take it as an article of faith. This reminds me of conversations I had with colleagues last year when I was working on the XCRI project (a project to develop a schema and related tools for the creation and management of standard and interoperable course catalogue data). We started to evolve the idea that Universities should consider the approach of opening up the non-contentious data in their considerable internal management information systems, slapping public facing APIs on to these data sources and inviting the world in to use what they could. We surmised that:

  • the barriers and costs to doing this kind of thing were rapidly diminishing
  • the possible gains, in terms of new business opportunities, partnerships etc. might be worth this small investment.
  • the more you did this, the more chance of discovering a new opportunity

During many a debate about addressing all kinds of thorny issues surrounding IPR, security, access control etc. we wondered aloud why we didn't start with the peripheral stuff - the data which didn't need to be secured or controlled in these ways. We recognised that this sort of development had long since taken place with other systems in a typical university - notably with library catalogues for example. So why not with course catalogues? In business terms, this kind of activity might, perhaps, be described as a loss leader - giving something away for free in the hope that it might open up a channel to more profitable business. Amazon did this long ago with their E-Commerce Service, and it seems to be working well for them! Crucially, they go out of their way to show-case the solutions built by other, third-party developers on top of the Amazon services. As me move into a world of institutional repositories, with Universities beginning to accept the benefits of providing open-access to scholarly output, will we see this trend extend to other types of less sector-specific information? Some quick examples might include accommodation details and bookings, expertise directories, course catalogues(XCRI!), calendars of public lectures etc.