The Difference Between Open Data and Public Data

BLG01x - edited feature imageIs there a difference between open data and public data? Yes. And it’s a big one.

There is a general consensus that when we talk about open data, we are referring to any piece of data or content that is free to access, use, reuse, and redistribute.

Due to the way most governments have rolled out their open data portals, however, it would be easy to assume that the data available on these sites is the only data that’s available for public consumption.

This isn’t true.

Although data sets that receive a governmental stamp of openness receive a lot more publicity, they actually only represent a fraction of the public data that exists on the web.

So what’s the difference between “public” data and “open” data?

What is Open Data?

Generally speaking, “open data” is information that has been published on government-sanctioned portals. In the best case, this data is structured, machine-readable, open licensed, and well-maintained.

What is Public Data?

Public data is the data that exists everywhere else. This is information that’s freely available (but not really accessible) on the web. It is frequently unstructured and unruly, and its usage requirements are often vague.

“Only 10% of government data is published as open data.”

What Does This Mean?

Well, for starters, it means that there’s a discrepancy between the open data that exists in government portals and public data in general. This is an important distinction to make, because while there’s a lot of excitement surrounding open data initiatives and their potential to transform modern society, the data that this premise rests on — open data — is only a fraction of what’s needed in order for this potential to be realized.

The fact is this: the majority of useful government data is either still proprietary or stowed away in a filing cabinet somewhere, and the stuff that is available is being released haphazardly.

Does it Matter?

Does it actually matter that there’s a distinction between these two kinds of data? Well… yes.

Open data, because it represents such a small portion of what’s available, hasn’t lived up to its potential. People, like me, who have very high hopes for the open data movement haven’t yet seen the ROI (economically or socially) that we are supposed to. The reason we haven’t is many fold, but this distinction is part of the problem.

In order for open data to be as effective as predicted, the line that demarcates open and public data needs to be erased, and governments need to start making a lot more of their public information open data. After all, we’re the ones paying for it.

Share this post

Lewis Wynne-Jones

Lewis Wynne-Jones

Lewis Wynne-Jones is the Head of Data Acquisition and Partnerships at ThinkData Works. Lewis oversees the management and expansion of ThinkData’s Marketplace, where companies and individuals can browse and connect to hundreds of thousands of data sets, from open data to exclusive data feeds. He is a vocal advocate for open government and actively works with the public and private sector to enable greater access and use of data.

scroll to top
We use technologies such as cookies to understand how you use our site and to provide a better user experience. This includes personalizing content, using analytics and improving site operations. We may share your information about your use of our site with third parties in accordance with our Privacy Policy. You can change your cookie settings as described here at any time, but parts of our site may not function correctly without them. By continuing to use our site, you agree that we can save cookies on your device, unless you have disabled cookies.
I Accept