On the importance of Open Data

Back in 2006 or so, I discovered openstreetmap.org, which was a rather obscure and empty do-it-yourself map of the world back then. This prompted me to join and help out, by mapping and by running the Tiles@Home service for a few years (until the technology could not scale anymore, because so many changes happened simultanously). The importance of available geographical data is pretty obvious by now (hey, Nokia is basically an empty shell with their HERE maps left), and other open data sets are popping up. Some are created by governments (who used public funds to create those data sets), while others are created and collected by NGOs.

One entity has started to collect and curate open data in an area where you would not expect any: contract data between oil companies and governments. A new „for-profit social business“ startup, OpenOil.net, has started to tackle the task by collecting hundreds of contracts and visualizing the data on a map (yes, it is openstreetmap-based). They also provide an API for querying the data and searching the full contract text. Ever wondered whether your home town is covered by a contract for oil extraction? Find it there!

I would wager that there are two major difficulties: 1) getting data from non-cooperative states and companies and 2) making enough money to go on. The data set however is truly open and free, you could download it and crunch it yourself. Material provided is either in the public domain or under the Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 license.

Hats off to Openoil.net for trying to make a very opaque business transparent. I wish you the best of luck. At some point this data might be just as ubiquitous and easily available as openstreetmap data, but for now this is a mostly unknown „here be dragons“ area.

DISCLAIMER: My cousin is employed by the startup, that is how I got to know it. I have no financial stakes or other special incentive to plug openoil.