4 Steps to Creating an Innovative App Using Open Data

by Lorena Bernal
Blog Post

What if you could create an app that helps people with asthma breathe better?

That would be a huge benefit to individuals and society as a whole, while also having a market size of over 23 million Americans alone.

Now, imagine that you could help asthma victims breathe better by using GPS data.

It’s happening. Not only that.

Someone is helping cows produce more milk with text messaging. Another app helps victims of natural disasters ping family members across the globe to see if everyone is safe after an earthquake, tsunami or fire.

All these ideas came from ordinary people and businesses by looking at open data.

Traffic and weather apps are no longer the only way to make money with easily accessible information. Innovative apps of all kinds are making a huge difference in people’s lives, and businesses are seeing huge profits by creating genuinely helpful software.

Creating an app using the vast and growing amounts of open data can be boiled down into the four steps below.

Ready? Let’s get into it.

Step One: Extracting Data

First off, you have to know the difference between big data and open data.

Big data is, for the sake of simplicity, all data that is being collected in the world. It’s growing at a ridiculous rate and there are some awesome ways companies like Google are helping sort through it.

Open data is any data that is free to view, use, and share. One of the most plentiful and vibrant sources have been local, state, and federal governments all over the world. While other companies are starting to show their data, the most used resource in the States is still data.gov.

Think of any U.S. based government operation like NASA, NOAA, DOT, etc. and all of the data they can possibly share can be openly viewed by anyone right from the website.

We’re talking about a lot of different topics and industries including:

  • Agriculture
  • Business
  • Consumer
  • Ecosystems
  • Education
  • Energy
  • Finance
  • Health
  • Local Government
  • Manufacturing
  • Oceanic
  • Public Safety
  • Science Research
  • Climate

Inside the traffic/local government/weather sectors alone there is an estimated $100 million worth of customers waiting to be served by innovative tech. No matter what industry you’re in, there is likely to be value found on data.gov.

Begin to look at and gather the data related to your expertise or business and notice patterns. After a while, problems may even jump out at you.

Once you’ve found some juicy information, it’s time to go on to step two.

Bonus Data: Want more places to find open data to use for your next app? Here’s 30 places to find open data.

Step Two: Finding Vulnerabilities

How do I come up with an idea?

If you’ve gathered data and you really feel that there is a solution that needs to be created, but the idea hasn’t jumped out at you just yet, there are a couple of things you can do.

  1. Get to Know Your Target Audience

A lot can be said for open data, but nothing compares to hearing stories and struggles from the people you’ll be helping with your new app. Making phone calls, polling your current customers, or just paying a visit to people where the data came from may be the best way to find and develop your new idea.

It’s a relatively new term called “idea extraction” and can be invaluable during the creation of your new app. A worry that many creators face is the fear of no one actually using your app once it’s developed.

You can alleviate (or even eradicate) those concerns altogether by talking through the data and finding pain points that are ripe for innovation.

How?

Ask them questions and listen intently. Here’s an example.

Example: The Climate Corporation

This is an app that used the open data from data.gov (one of the many apps listed on their site here).

They used a ton of raw weather and geographical data to create an application that helps farmers decide exactly when to plant, harvest, etc. for the best yield.

Although, it would be pretty difficult to determine how to portray that data without talking with the people who need it, farmers.

Key Take Away: By working with the data and the end user before development you can create something that is market validated and more useful (more on this in step three).

Here’s a guide that lists several questions you can ask, along with the basic process of idea extraction.

  1. Look to Your Own Circles

Problems are a part of life and are all around you. You, your family, colleagues, friends and anyone else you see on a regular basis have areas of their lives that can be made easier with open data.

That’s how the GPS inhaler, and several other apps were created. People you care about have problems and they’re probably not alone.

Step Three: Create a Solution

Now that you have tons of useful data and have derived a problem that this data can solve, it’s time to put them together.

Your goal?

Coming up with an innovative application, or product, that uses open data to enhance lives, solves problems, or even entertains people.

Ideas can hit you anywhere, and chances are the process has given you a solution. It may be right on the tip of your tongue. If you haven’t got anything yet, you may have to go back to the data and to your ideal customers and do some more research.

Here are some other ideas to get your creative juices flowing:

Mind Mapping: Getting your thoughts out of your head in a “brain dump” fashion can be hugely helpful toward organizing your new software.

Reading About New Apps: Get up to date on apps and digital projects that are being created and some that haven’t been done yet.

Download Apps: Many apps have similar processes used for completely different sectors and purposes. Playing with apps in a similar market can be the edge you need for an “aha” moment.

Step Four: Have it Developed

The coolest part about open data is its ability to turn ordinary people into heroes who can change the way we live, or maybe save the planet.

Everyday there are more and more apps that have been thought up by those who aren’t programmers, designers, or even business owners. The ability to take an idea to a developer that results in an intuitive and innovative application has never been easier. You can bring as little as an idea and as much as detailed designs to get started.

The data is here, the audience is waiting.

What will you build with open data?

Koombea has built hundreds of applications for start ups and established businesses (some have gone on to be purchased by Fortune 500 companies) since 2007.

Our team of top developers and designers specialize in using data from open sources across the web and can help you at any stage of your process to create something that’s as useful as it is powerful. Most of our projects are ready in just a few months, meaning your app will be on the market quickly.

It all starts with a conversation. Get in touch with us today.

by Lorena Bernal
Blog Post