Dirk Riehle's Industry and Research Publications

The Pegel Alarm open data challenge (a thread)

The struggles of @LilithWittmann to make the Handelsregister of Germany freely available and easily accessible reminded me of our own struggles with different German state-level organizations, trying to get access to open data for rivers and water ways in 2014. 1/

We had developed an open-source app called PegelAlarm @EichhornPhilipp (now defunct) which lets users set an alarm trigger for the water level of a river they are interested in. The app was developed in response to the big flooding of 2013. 2/

Screenshots from the PegelAlarm (2014) app

We had quick success with water-level data provided by the WSV, which is an organization of the (now) BMDV, one of Germany’s federal ministries. They provided the data from their measurement stations as open data, offering a nice REST-API, as far back as 2012. 3/

Water levels (2014) of the Elbe river by location

In addition to the country of Germany, the different German states also operated measurement stations, and our app would be much better if we could use their data as well. Sadly, none of the data was available under an open license and through an API. 4/

In 2015, we therefore sent letters to fourteen state-level ministries, pointing out the existence of our open-source app, and asking whether we could get access to the water-level data of the state-operated measurement stations. The responses were telling. 5/

Every state-level ministry denied our request for data access. The main argument: Use of the data by unauthorized personnel (like this civil servant) was not acceptable, because there was no guarantee that we would use the data properly. 6/

Moreover, not only did the ministries feel they needed to control the use of data, they also pointed out that there was no use for our open-source app, because they would soon be developing their own. As far as I can tell, these were all different apps. 7/

In summary, the state-level ministries each decided to redo, redundantly and individually, our open-source app, and also would not provide the necessary data, trying to maintain control over how the data is used. So much for citizen innovation. 8/

I would like to add that at least on the country level, there has been significant progress since then, most notably by way of the BMDV’s Mobilithek (former mCLOUD). Please note that the BMDV is a sponsor of my university research group. 9/

If you liked this thread, you may also like my 2019 thoughts about If Open Data is Like Open Source Twenty Years Ago. 10/10


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