3 Reasons Why Open Data and Mobile Platforms Are Vital for Our Future

The demand for access to digital isn't just about making things more convenient. A study shows that access to technology and information changes behaviors in ways that help our environment and quality of life.
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Do you recall being able to sit down in front of a bookshelf, pull out a selection from a set of encyclopedias and browse through the pages to see what information and photos were hidden within? If you're under 25 years old, it's likely you have no idea what that experience was like. The most archaic forms of information-sharing most Millennials recall are usually the first clunky attempts of Internet search on a computer.

In fact, a study published by the US PIRG Education Fund provides insight into the rapid spread of technology across American households.

Between 2000 and 2012, the percentage of adults who use the Internet increased from 46 percent to 82 percent. The percentage of adults who own a cell phone increased from 53 percent to 88 percent. The share of Americans with access to high-speed Internet at home increased from 5 percent to more than 70 percent. And roughly half of Americans now own smartphones, which did not exist in their modern form in 2000.

The demand for access to digital isn't just about making things more convenient. This study shows that access to technology and information changes behaviors in ways that help our environment and quality of life. In a press conference with local media on July 9, 2014, the mayor of Albuquerque, Richard Berry, announced a record-breaking increase in public transit ridership with almost 6,000 new passengers using transit over the past year due to a growth in downloads of the city's official mobile apps on iOS and Android (developed in partnership with the city and my company, APPCityLife). Over 20,000 users access the mobile apps for real-time tracking of buses throughout the city, as well as to receive push notices about changes to favorited routes. The increase was also attributed to other implemented technologies like TEXT2RIDE and veteran's programs.

And the benefit hasn't just been in favor of users having a better experience because of access to real-time information. The city has saved hundreds of thousands of dollars due to a reduction in calls to 311, which are billed at $1.86 per call. The city estimates savings of $548,000 in only two years since the smartphone and supporting technologies were added to their Open Data initiative.

Shared Economies, Shared Information, Shared Savings

Prolina Saxena, NextDrop

When Open Data launched around 2009, it was part of a large cultural shift in the way we as a global community share economies, information and innovation. Along with the release of information by governments all over the world, the world at large was beginning to view ownership of data and even experiences in a different way. Sharing-based startups like Zipcar, Uber and Airbnb paved the way for a plethora of startups unfolding across a wide spectrum of industries.

Global summits hosted by groups like the New Cities Foundation foster the sharing of ideas, technologies and innovations not only between sectors but also between leaders around the globe. The release of open data to the public has already helped increase the innovative technologies cities and countries use to solve problems. For instance, Pronita Saxena, still in her twenties, is leading her company, NextDrop, is integrating open data with mobile to solve water problems affecting 3 million around the globe.

Mega Cities

A recent report by Forbes predicts that the population living in urban areas "is expected to accelerate to 60 percent before 2025, globally; with the Western, developed world reaching an 80 percent urbanization level during this time frame." This massive growth, and the spawning of new megacities across the globe with populations of 10 million or more people over the next 20 years makes it vital to solve the challenges of efficiently and affordably sharing civic information to such large populations. Calling 311 operator-based services will not be an option when populations increase to those levels. The growth of open data -- and the ability to create useful, relevant mobile tools which citizens can use to gain information and report issues to their city government will be imperative.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this post claimed that Open Data launched in 2008, not 2009. The blog has been updated to correct this.

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