One evening last week I went to the inaugural Open Data Institute (ODI) member networking event at the ODI’s offices in Shoreditch.

It was a very hot and steamy evening (major respect for the lawyer who came in suit and tie), made even more so with about 50 of us crammed into a small room. But despite that it was a great event.

I was there representing our (Lokku’s) new brand OpenCage Data, our service for extracting and delivering open geodata from OpenStreetMap.  There was a broad range of companies represented: some big and long established, some start-ups very much still in their infancy. But what struck me the most was the great spirit of shared vision that ran across all the conversations I had. Everyone in the room “got” open data, why it is better and how society can benefit from it. The creation of a formal group like the ODI to shepherd the diverse efforts of companies like ours is a great accelerator for the process. This is an area where the UK is leading the way in Europe and the world, and even though the ODI is still very new they’ve already had requests from more than 20 other countries asking for advice on setting up comparable organizations or pro-open data policies. Congrats to the ODI team.

In a lot of ways the event reminded me of some of the early events I used to go to back in 2006 when the London start-up scene was just emerging. Back then the scene was so small that everyone knew everyone, at least by sight, and there was a palpable sense of “we’re all in it together”. Since then the London start-up scene has grown massively, which is a great thing, but it no longer has the same sense of intimacy that is once did. Probably that’s not possible with such a large and diverse and continually expanding scene.

I’m proud that my company, Lokku, is among the early members of the ODI (see the members directory) and look forward to watching (and helping) the movement grow. Hopefully we can keep the same spirit of helpfulness and excitement that I saw this week. In that spirit, anyone working on open data, in the UK or elsewhere, should please get in touch if we can help.

One final note - at the end of the evening all the members were presented with a goody bag with, amongst other things, an ODI mug. In the age of the digital, don’t underestimate the instinctive appeal of the tangible! I’m sipping from that very mug as I draft this post.