BrightScope is a wonderful example of a business that sells services built in part on publicly available data. They’ve gotten a lot of attention because they started up after the Open Government Directive, after data.gov — after Gov 2.0 in general — and can therefore be pointed to as a validation of that movement.
But, if we want to validate the idea of public sector information (PSI) being useful foundations for businesses in general, we can expand our scope considerably. And if we do, it’s easy to find companies that are built on government data: there are databases of legal decisions, databases of patent information,medicare data, resellers of weather data, business intelligence services that rely in part on SEC data, GIS products derived from Census data, and many others.
Some of these should probably be free, open, and much less profitable than they currently are*. But all of them are examples of how genuinely possible it is to make money off of government data. It’s not all that surprising that many of the most profitable uses of PSI emerged before anyone started talking about open data’s business potential. That’s just the magic of capitalism! This stuff was useful, and so people found it and commercialized it. The profit motive meant that nobody had to wait around for people like me to start talking about open formats and APIs. There are no doubt still efficiencies to be gained in improving and opening these systems, but let’s not be shocked if a lot of the low-hanging commercial fruit turns out to have already been picked.