The Open Data Hub of the European Union, which was launched at the end of 2012, sparked a considerable amount interest among open data enthusiasts and media as well. As a result of European Commission’s open data strategy, the portal boasts with almost 6000 datasets, some of which are available as linked data through SPARQL endpoint. LOD2 project’s Jindřich Mynarz had a chance to ask Daniele Rizzi, an EC representative, about the current status and plans for the EC’s Open Data portal.
Jindřich Mynarz: Open data was explicitly mentioned in the original call for tenders for the EC Open Data portal from July 2011. What drove you to ask specifically for “open data”?
Daniele Rizzi: The central aim of the EU 2020 strategy is to put Europe’s economies onto a high and sustainable growth path. To this end, Europe should use its resources in the most positive way. Public sector information is an important source of economic growth through the development of innovative value-added products and services. By making public sector information available on transparent, effective and non-discriminatory terms, governments including the European institutions can help boost economic growth, by up several tens of billions €/year.
In 2011 the Commission decided to put its own policy into practice and launch an Open Data portal where all Commission documents should be made available for reuse for commercial or non-commercial purposes, without charge and without the need to make an individual application.
This is also in line with the initiatives of most EU Member States, who have themselves developed or planned national Open Data portals to give easier access to their own public sector information.
Jindřich Mynarz: How do you plan to determine if the EC Open Data portal was a success or not? What measurable impacts would you consider to tell if it succeeded?
Daniele Rizzi: Our initial measure of success is of course the number of datasets (currently around 6000), the number of publishers (currently 14 Commission DGs and the European Environment Agency), the number of users and downloaded datasets in the Open Data portal and how these increase over time.
Our objective is to progressively make available through the portal all Commission’s data and possibly data of other EU institutions. On the basis of a pragmatic approach, datasets from Commission departments, other EU institutions and agencies will be constantly added to the initial content available when the portal opened in December 2012.
The impact on the information market, in terms of quantified re-use of datasets and number of applications building on those datasets, will only be possible to assess at a later stage, through dedicated studies and user feedback.
Jindřich Mynarz: Is the EC Open Data portal used inside the European Commission and other EU institutions to simplify data exchange? Do you plan to incorporate it in the EC’s internal workflows?
Daniele Rizzi: EC departments and EU institutions and agencies are not always aware of the information already available outside their own specific domain of activity. The EC Open Data portal, as a single entry point for discovery and access of the information generated within the EU Institutions, will definitively contribute to a better sharing and exploitation of information within the institutions themselves. Specific procedures should also be put in place in order to guarantee that new or updated information is immediately made available also through the portal. This is what is already happening e.g., for the Eurostat statistical tables, updated on the portal twice a day to be fully aligned with the data on the Eurostat web site.
Jindřich Mynarz: Linked data is prominently listed on the landing page of the portal. Why do you see it as a key ingredient of the portal?
Daniele Rizzi: The portal end-user interface allows easy query and access to its content in an interactive way. It easily serves users wishing to discover data, search and download datasets, get in touch with the publishing authorities or using pre-defined applications, such as viewers, web interfaces, etc.
In order to allow the development of third party applications, however, it is also necessary to facilitate the exploitation of the portal content as a platform for data and information integration in addition to the interactive document search. For this purpose, linked data is currently the most pragmatic and efficient solution.
Jindřich Mynarz: As of now, the EC Open Data portal is in beta. Do you intend to leave it in “permanent beta” and work on fast and continuous improvement? Could you tell us what are the next steps for the portal?
Daniele Rizzi: At the moment the portal is labelled as being in “beta” version because its deployment phase will still take some time, and not all the foreseen features, both in terms of portal capabilities and content completeness, are already available. Our goal is to open the portal as soon as possible and progressively improve and enrich it, rather than wait for “perfection”. Our approach is indeed to work on fast and continuous improvements, based on the implementation an initial set of predefined features and on the feedback of users.
The next steps will be the complete redesign of the user interface, making it consistent with the interinstitutional graphic chart for web sites, and the implementation of a fully multilingual interface, both planned to become available in the next weeks. Later this year a version 1.0 of the portal will include new functionalities and will rely on a new internal architecture which, while invisible to the user, will guarantee better performances and support an increased number of concurrent users.
Short bio: Daniele Rizzi has a degree in civil engineering from the Politecnico di Milano University. He spent most of his professional life working on the development of information and communication systems and tools, in particular in the domain of spatial information, both in the private and the public sector. Daniele joined the European Commission in 1993, where from 2004 to 2012 he worked on the adoption and implementation of a European spatial data infrastructure (INSPIRE). Since December 2012 he deals with the Commission Open Data policies in DG Communications Networks, Content and Technology, working in particular on the deployment of Open Data Portals.