After Bill Gates Backs Open Access, Steve Ballmer Discovers The Joys Of Open Data

from the who's-up-for-some-open-source,now? dept

A few months ago, we noted that the Gates Foundation has emerged as one of the leaders in requiring the research that it funds to be released as open access and open data — an interesting application of the money that Bill Gates made from closed-source software. Now it seems that his successor as Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer, has had a similar epiphany about openness. Back in 2001, Ballmer famously called GNU/Linux “a cancer”. Although he later softened his views on software somewhat, that was largely because he optimistically claimed that the threat to Microsoft from free software was “in the rearview mirror”. Not really: today, the Linux-based Android has almost two orders of magnitude more market share than Windows Phone. However, there’s one area of openness that Ballmer seems to have embraced whole-heartedly for his new project USAFacts, which launched this week — open data:

USAFacts is a new data-driven portrait of the American population, our government’s finances, and government’s impact on society. We are a non-partisan, not-for-profit civic initiative and have no political agenda or commercial motive. We provide this information as a free public service and are committed to maintaining and expanding it in the future.

We rely exclusively on publicly available government data sources. We don?t make judgments or prescribe specific policies. Whether government money is spent wisely or not, whether our quality of life is improving or getting worse — that’s for you to decide. We hope to spur serious, reasoned, and informed debate on the purpose and functions of government. Such debate is vital to our democracy. We hope that USAFacts will make a modest contribution toward building consensus and finding solutions.

In addition to allowing a wide range of public data sets to be queried using a site-specific search engine, USAFacts also offers synoptic views:

an annual report, a summary report, and a “10-K” modeled on the document public companies submit annually to the SEC for transparency and accountability to their investors.

In an age where “fake news,” AKA lies, are common currency, and where the Trump administration is making government more, not less, opaque, Ballmer’s philanthropic, fact-based endeavor is particularly welcome. It’s also nice to see him following Gates and implicitly acknowledging that open is more powerful than closed.

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Comments on “After Bill Gates Backs Open Access, Steve Ballmer Discovers The Joys Of Open Data”

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My_Name_Here says:

Re: Re: Re:

The problem is actually that Android (and most other mobile OSes) are a combination of software and firmware. Even when you root an android device, you are still at best getting a firmware loader that expects some flavor of Android. In a similar fashion, Apple so blurs the line between OS and firmware that you can’t even get access to try to put another OS on the phone. It’s an integral device.

Punchy Brewster (profile) says:

Better late than never. Welcome to the show. (But we all know it was all just a pocket-fattening charade anyway, after all.)

Heck, what was it, around 2005 that we started to roll over onto Linux – in “I’m a real boy” corporate time mode? There would be no “cloud” scale without it. I can’t see how any e-economy could possibly flourish otherwise.

And for what it’s worth Android is just one side of a coin toss. I still believe WebOS(imho) was more pure and more fun and boy don’t I wish it was OSS. “Piss off, I’ll run whatever I want. My phone, my adventure.”

.. aaand now you got me onto the ISP donkeys. Holding up the got. damn. show. ahgain. The entire bloody thing is resting on their shoulders and we get Pai. Whelp, I guess we’re just a bunch of schleps so fuck us. Gee, thanks mister. You nefarious ignorant bastard. Ride it now, bitch, because the storm in coming.

My_Name_Here says:

Full disclosure?

I have to wonder about the integrity of the process. They will be limited to available information, and not really turning up new information. In some ways, it’s just another take / slant on what is already out there.

The goal appears noble. It however looks more like something that can easily be twisted to tell whatever narrative they want to tell.

DakotaKid (profile) says:

All sources have an inherent bias

This article plays as if government data is somehow unbiased. Each person or organization biases the data. Without bias there is no information. To make an observation assumptions must be made and a way to measure that data determined. Simply deciding to use your vision to look at an object biases the observation to a light filled environment that changes the environment it there were no light (think of a room full of cockroaches that scatter when the light comes on).
Government is biased to state funded institutions and the people attracted to government always have a bias of the use of coercive force to get funding. Large businesses like the coerciveness of government to get their way.
Non government entities such as individuals may make different, and also valid solutions that get short shrift when large data powerful entities produce ideas, boundaries and studies that conflict with the interests of the state or large corporation.

Athens says:

Re: Re: All sources have an inherent bias

… Ahhh, you’ve stumbled into epistemology. Very scary stuff.

Everything you think you “know” with certainty… is unverifiable, ultimately. You deal only with “relative” facts, based upon arbitrary but common assumptions (in your mind).

The only thing you know with certainty is that your consciousness exists (Cogito Ergo Sum). All else you perceive … could well be illusory.

(“Reality is an illusion, albeit a persistent one” — Albert Einstein)

Median WIlfred says:

Pull up the ladder after they're in the Tree House

Oh, sure, *now* you’re in favor of “open data”, after you’ve made your robber baron billions and billions, and made absolute rubbish like “Word” and “Windows” mandatory monopoly standards in offices and schools worldwide.

You two have money to slosh around and take away opportunity from the next aspiring monopolist, just for the good of mankind as a whole. Have you no heart?!?

Anonymous Coward says:

Except it's not really *open* data

The problem with Ballmer’s site is that it’s not properly open. There isn’t (enough) linking back to source data; there aren’t ways to examine how conclusions are reached; you can’t, in most cases, download their data.

In many ways, it’s a black box – it tells you what they say the numbers say, but if you want to be certain, you don’t have any way to query the data properly.

It’s a useful start, but it’s honestly hard to see it as $10m worth of a start. Three things that would improve it at once: 1) link back to the source material for each dataset; 2) show the working (and any conflicts in the data; 3) make the datasets downloadable in something other than PDF.

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