Open Data APIs May Play a Large Role at OKFestival in Berlin

This year’s Open Knowledge Festival—to be held July 15-17 in Berlin—will celebrate and push forward the progress being made around the world in the use of open data for civic projects. This year, APIs will continue to be at the heart of many discussions, often taking a leading behind-the-scenes role in the way open data is used to create social, health, political and environmental solutions.


Keynotes From Open Data API Thought Leaders

The OKFestival is organized by the Open Knowledge Foundation, a global not-for-profit that works on a number of open data fronts, including leading the open source Platform CKAN. Keynotes will include Neelie Kroes, vice president of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda. One of Kroes’ latest achievements has been leading a Europe-wide effort that is seeing data and telephony mobile roaming charges cut for travelers moving within the EU. She has been instrumental in leading API initiatives, such as supporting the open API platform FI-Ware, and has most recently coordinated plans for a European data-driven economy. Kroes has spoken about the importance of APIs as a key tool in enabling e-government processes, the creation of a new generation of entrepreneurs and startups, and in the Internet of Things and smart cities sectors.

She will be followed by a keynote from Eric Hysen, head of politics and elections at Google, where he leads a team that manages the Google Civic Information API.

APIs in Almost Every Open Data Conversation, Whether They Are Mentioned or Not

In December 2012, when Instagram pulled out of Twitter, it prevented its users from automatically retweeting their Instagram pics (a reaction to Twitter going “all 15-year-old girl on Instagram” in the first place). Many users complained about this disconnect. As Adam DuVander pointed out, what end users were actually complaining about was the lack of an API and the changes in the API terms of service that operated between the two sparring social media networks. But for the public, the term API never even came up. (And actually, thanks to API aggregation service IFTTT, the public has a workaround to integrate the two APIs, as Yahoo tech columnist Alyssa Bereznak points out.)

This same relationship can be seen in open data circles. Behind the scenes, APIs are empowering the open data agenda and creating a lot of the real benefits emerging from the use of open data in civic society—benefits like improved disaster management responses, better city planning and engagement, and use of public transport data to create hyperlocal business models.

OKFestival’s 2014 theme, “Open Minds to Open Action,” focuses on “translating skills and inspiration into real change in the world.” No doubt, throughout conference proceedings, APIs will be discussed as one of the key enablers that can make this "real change" both possible and long-lasting.


Participants at a previous event hosted by Open Knowledge Foundation, OKCon in Geneva in 2013 (used with permission).

Producer Lily Bui will speak at OKFestival on sensor journalism. Using skills similar to citizen science techniques, sensor journalism draws on data channeled by a range of sensors, including drones, temperature and environmental sensors, and wearable tech data. No doubt, the main driver that makes sensor journalism possible is APIs that move the data from collection through cleaning and to analysis and use in telling impactful stories. Bui will talk about this emerging field in two sessions at OKFestival.

For developers and entrepreneurs looking to focus their efforts on using open data APIs to create a new generation of viable startups focused on the social good, Kat Borlongan and Chloé Bonnet from French open data consultancy startup Five by Five will speak at OKFestival about business models for open data. Successful business models built on open data are starting to emerge, but the path to viability has been filled with its fair share of challenges.

Fringe Events

Alongside the packed schedule on July 16 and 17, a number of local and international fringe events will also be held to ensure that calling this a "festival" and not just a "conference" is justified. Side events include a CSV Conference to be held on July 15. This event includes API experts like Jeremy Krinsley from open data platform Enigma and Brian Jacobs, a Knight-Mozilla Fellow at ProPublica, who is a Wikipedia API expert.

The weekend before OKFestival, on July 12 and 13, the fringe hackathon event Open Data Control invites API developers in Berlin, Tel Aviv and San Francisco to work on building “common legal and personal data control tools,” such as aggregated transparency reports, tools to prevent electronic surveillance and watchdog mashups that check when service providers make use of data in a way that is inconsistent with their privacy policies. (A full list of ideas is regularly being added to on Hacker League.)

ProgrammableWeb readers who want to attend may register on the OKFestival website.

Be sure to read the next Open Data article: OKFestival: Business Models That Take Advantage of Open Data Opportunities