Entrepreneurship in Action? Just look at the weather
18 January 2012

by tmartin on January 18, 2012

Brrrrrp.

At 3:45 pm, as I type these words, the National Weather Service posted a wind advisory for Barnstable County.

Brrrrrp.

My NOAA Radio iPhone app let me know the advisory was in effect.

Almost two years ago I spent a lovely spring day at a Gov 2.0 unconference in Cambridge (http://www.capeeyes.com/2010/03/the-unconference-a-whole-other-way-to-meetmarch-10-2010/).

The group talked about OpenData, a concept that said if you open up information for everyone to use, then interesting things will happen.

They were right.

Just look at how the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has changed things. In 2009, NOAA became one of the first governmental bodies to embrace open data.

“The basic tenet of physical climate data management at NOAA is full and open data access,” it wrote its policy paper that year, as it led the pack in opening up proprietary weather and other earth data.

Fast forward two years. After a deceptively gentle autumn, winter has arrived in New England.  Ice. Snow. Wind. To get ready for it, I just spent $3.99 to download a NOAA weather radio app in the iPhone store.

One of the cool things this app does is sound an alarm if my selected geography falls into a weather emergency – even if my phone’s ringer is turned off. This year I vow that I will not be the dolt who decided to drive 60 miles in the blizzard of the century!

One of the even cooler things about this app is that I didn’t buy it from NOAA, even though it uses trusted NOAA data.

Entrepreneurial types using the data feed have built literally hundreds – I mean, I stopped scrolling at 125 titles! – of downloadable mobile product for every niche you can possibly imagine. And that’s just on the iPhone platform.

Heck, there’s even an app that turns scientists into mobile media heroes. With Hurricane Hunter you can, and I quote  “follow the world famous Hurricane Hunters as they fly their missions into hurricanes and tropical storms. These men and women from USAFR and NOAA fly directly into and through these weather systems …”

A bit closer to home, ACKweather wants to be your source for all things water and weather (check out those NOAA buoys!) from Nantucket.

Should you want to follow toastier options in January, you can always turn to California Surf Way  (that NOAA buoy information again!) which combines weather data with its own surf knowledge to point your board in the right direction.

Or maybe you’d rather move even more tropical with Touch Hawaiian Weather — yup, buoy data involved here, too.

OK, back to snow.  And wind. And data.

Emergency radio, aka police and fire communication, gives weather and information junkies another peek into what’s really happening out there. Time was you could buy a scanner and plug crystals into it and eavesdrop. Now? You got it; the data from the airwaves has been packaged into hundreds of apps

“Know what is really going on. Listen in on police and fire crews in your local area!” trumpets Scanner911.

“Live in NYC and want to know what’s going on down the block? Turn your iPhone into an FDNY scanner!!!!” screams FDNY Live Fire Radio even louder.

Mashing – aka, the combing  – of open data creates whole new categories too. Geograph mixes EPA, USGS, census, FAA, and a variety of government sources to create a mobile app that for $4.99 gives you the physical and human geography for your chosen state.

The Languages Nearby app uses US Census data, which has been moving reams of information into open data accessible formats, to find out what languages are spoken in your current geographic location. While I personally never needed this information – how powerful is it that someone in some market did … and innovation found a way to provide it.

This month the US government votes on legislation that turns digital distribution channels into a de facto enforcer for a small but powerful group of private companies desperate to keep a death grip on their fast-fading proprietary (but profitable … for them) world. They say it is about piracy, but fear of legal competition is the unspoken elephant.

Misguided efforts like SOPA (http://www.capeeyes.com/2011/11/a-chill-online-wind-blows-with-sopa/) squash innovation and prevent the market from speaking.

A SOPA-esquue way of seeing the digital world chills the efforts of entrepreneurs – the largest job generating engine in the country – to the bone.

The minds behind SOPA and kin represent the antithesis of the flowering of creativity that the government itself has unleashed by opening its own data to developers.

You want to support innovation? You want to support growth and jobs? You want to let the market respond and fill emerging needs?  Just look at the window. Just look at the weather.

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