Opening up Product Data!

Katelyn Rogers - February 11, 2014 in Uncategorized

Two weeks ago, together with our friends at Provenance and Hub Westminster, we organised a two part event to discuss the what, why and how of opening up product data.  The seeds for this event were sown months back when we started thinking about the diversity of stakeholders thinking about and hacking around the problem of closed product data. This diversity of stakeholders has also meant a diversity of approaches and we wanted to find out more about what others were doing, the challenges they were facing and the progress they had made. Ultimately we decided that we would all might benefit from getting together in the same room to collectively start working through some of our shared issues and collectively build the largest open product database in the world.

In a series of blog posts, I will recount what we discussed, the conclusions we reached ,whats left to be done (Spolier Alert: a lot) and how you can get involved!

The Event

We invited people from different sectors, with different backgrounds and skill-sets, who were approaching the problem of closed product data in different ways to come together for 12 hours and discuss Open Product Data and the Future of Retail. In the end, 150+ people took time out on a Thursday to do just that. The event was always intended to be a scoping event, to help us map out the best path forward. The event kicked off Thursday morning at 10am with speakers like Chris Taggart from OpenCorporates, Monika Solanki a researcher  from  Aston Business School and Vald Trifa from Evrythng. Video of the talks are coming soon but for now, if you want to know more about what they talked about see our collective notes here: Open Product Data Event Notes

The Groups

After the talks, we broke up into three groups where we discussed the data source possibilities, the database architecture and the future implications of Open Product Data. Equipped with flipboards, markers, post-its and our experience, we collectively worked through the challenges, opportunities and the innovative potential of a more open product data environment.

I lead the Data Source Possibilities group; here is what we discussed!

Data Source Possibilities: What data are we going to use to populate the worlds largest, collectively built, open product database, who owns this data and what are the incentives to keeping it closed and/or opening it up?  – A small task for three hours!

After a short coffee break to digest the problem, we tucked in. When it comes to open data, products are pretty much an unmapped territory. Within minutes, only going through the obvious datasource possibilities like product specs and company ownership, we had come up with quite a daunting list. We decided to step back and approach the problem in a different way – who wins and who loses in the current product data ecosystem and how would this change if this were to open up product data? Immediately there were some obvious winners and losers. Consumers lose out because lack of transparency has lead to perverse incentives for cost cutting and the institutions that benefit the most from the closed data ecosystem are the institutions whose business model is built around selling product data. No surprises here.

However, data brokers and consumers are only a few of the stakeholders involved in any given products lifecycle and the incentives and/or disincentives to opening up for manufactures, distributers, retailers etc. are more complex.  For example, one might assume that small artisanal makers would benefit from open product data and supply chain transparency in order to more easily showcase their production process. In reality, their process – from where they source their materials to how they make their products – is often something that small artisanal producers are very protective over as this process is their IP. The knowledge and relationships they have built over years is something they may be concerned about making public. Similarly, large multinationals who one might assume benefit from the secretive nature of an closed product data ecosystem might actually benefit from opening up, to a certain extent at least. The secrecy around how products are made has eroded trust and market leaders, wishing to distance themselves and their brand from the bad press associated with disasters like the garment factor collapse in Bangladesh, sweatshops and child labour abuses, might need to open up for anyone to believe them.

Ultimately we concluded that for the majority of product data owners and producers, there are both incentives and disincentives for opening up. Rocking the boat is always intimidating for companies thriving under the status quo but the tides are shifting and moving towards more transparency and open data in the product space is inevitable. Who will be the early adopters is still unknown but we will continue to push data owners to join the revolution. In the next in this Open Product Data blog series I will talk about the conclusions reached by other working groups and the evening event we held!

We are hoping to continue what we started with small events every few months in London. If you are interested get in touch! If you have ideas for the open product database, want to contribute or just want to find out more, you can join the Open Product Data working group on our mailing list or contribute on Github.

Join us in building the largest open product database in the world – together we can shape the new consumer experience.

Opening Up Product Data

Katelyn Rogers - January 23, 2014 in Uncategorized

Our goal: Collaborate to build the largest open product database in the world. Join us if you are interested in open data, smart things and the future of retail and product design. No prior knowledge or technical skill required.

The Open Knowledge Foundation, Provenance.it and HubWestminster are teaming up to bring together various builders and thinkers to make an open database of product information, building on the existing work of Open Product Data. We will share and learn from our diverse experiences, work through some immediate challenges and collectively develop a roadmap for building the largest open product database in the world.

All are welcome and are essential to make this day a success: Designers, coders, academics, makers and thinkers. You don’t need to be a data expert. The day will be organised around three working groups:

Mapping the Data Source Possibilities

What types of product data do consumers need to make informed purchasing decisions? From data about the company that made it to the product’s carbon footprint to the cheapest place to buy it – this group will explore and map all the data source possibilities of an Open Product Database.

Database Architecture 

How do you build the largest open product database in the world? How can we make it easily accessible to everyone? This group will tackle the large data systems challenge of building an Open Product Database in order to ensure that it is built the right way and is built to serve the needs of businesses and consumers from across the world.

Vision for the Future

What does the future look like with Open Product Data? There are incredible possibilities for a world with a more open product space including having an impact on environmental and social sustainability, advertising, the way products are made and ultimately, we think, the possiblity of fundamentally changing consumer behaviour. This group will discuss the future implications of open product data. 

Drawing on our combined expertise, we can build tools that empower citizens with the information they need to make purchasing decisions that are right for them, their families and their community. Let’s Build the Future of Retail.

Open letter to GS1 : The Benefits and Potential of an Open GEPIR

Philippe Plagnol - December 23, 2013 in Uncategorized

Dear GS1 and GS1 Member Organisations,

For over 40 years, GS1 has succeeded in creating a unique and standard identifier, what we know as the barcode, for the vast majority of commercialised products.  Through your 108 Member organisations operating across more than 150 countries, you have succeeded in simplifying trade in complex global markets. However, the rise of internet and communications technologies has meant that GTIN codes, the unique and standard identifier for products created to serve the needs of manufacturers and retailers, now has uses not imaginable 40 years ago.

In 1999, you created the Global Electronic Party Information Register (GEPIR), a system that permits consumers everywhere to verify the validity of GTIN codes by allowing users to discover the company hidden behind the barcode. Anybody, anywhere can use GEPIR to verify the company that registered the first 6-10 digits of the GTIN, the Global Company Prefix (GCP), a number unique to an individual company, and therefore trace products to their owner. For example, using GEPIR, using the GTIN code on my Coca-Cola bottle, 049000000450, I am able to discover that the GCP “0049000” is assigned to “Coca-Cola USA Operations”, a legal entity based in Atlanta, USA. In global markets, it is often difficult to know where individual products come from or who registered them, making the GEPIR system invaluable for conscientious consumers. We are aware that GEPIR also serves to help combat the use of illegal GTIN codes and recognise that GEPIR is an incredibly power tool that permits companies and consumers alike to trace the origins of the products they buy.

Despite being limited to 30 requests per day, GEPIR has always been free to access. Recently, however, we noticed that GS1 France changed their access policy, closing their repository to the public and creating “premium”  access for companies willing and able to pay (See Article). While we were still able to trace French products using the US GEPIR, we worry that closing the system to the public to offer premium access might become a trend, a trend we see as bad for the consumers and bad for GS1. We are proposing a different trend and urging GS1 to open up rather than close off.

For the last 40 years, the GTIN code has been used primarily for supply chain management purposes but in recent years we have seen barcodes used in myriad of smartphone applications. Changes in technological capacity has meant that the GTIN code can be used in ways unimaginable 40 years ago and while it was never intended to be used in mobile applications or as a communication channel for companies, it is evident that GTIN codes will continue to be used in new and innovative ways in the years to come. That being said, at the moment, use is limited by the closed nature of your current system.

For over a year now, we have been working to understand and build an “Open GEPIR”. In order to truly capitalise on the potential of GTIN codes, an open product database is necessary and building a reliable database requires quality data. GEPIR is essential both to verify the quality of our data and in linking individual products to the company that produced them. GEPIR is the key to unlocking the potential of Open Product Data and creating genuine traceability and transparency in supply chains. We have made a good start (see our current progress here) but only you, GS1 and your member organisations, can provide comprehensive data dumps and real time synchronisations of data-flows.

We urge you to join us in enabling innovation in the product space and capitalising on the potential of the system you have built. We ask that you make open data part of your 2014 strategy!

Seasons Greetings,

Philippe Plagnol and Open Product Data Working Group

Brand Standard Identifier Number (BSIN): Open Product Data Working Group Launches a Brand Repository!

Philippe Plagnol - December 20, 2013 in Uncategorized

brand_okfn_logo

In order to build a meaningful database of all the products in the world, it is important that we are able to link essential attributes of the product to the product itself. One obvious attribute that we have wanted to link is the product’s brand. Unfortunately, we discovered that assigning a brand to a product is not as easy as we anticipated. Not only is there no standard identifier for brands, there is also not always a clear distinctions between a brand, a product line, a company etc. Nevertheless, a product’s brand is incredibly powerful in influencing purchasing decisions and we felt that it was important to develop a way of managing and assigning brands to products.

The working group had already built a brand repository containing upwards 4,000 brands but this repository was highly integrated with our open product database and our system of assigning brands to products was not scalable.  To correct for this we have developed a separate brand management platform and created a six digit alphanumeric code, the Brand Standard Identifier Number (BSIN), unique to individual brands. The brands already in our product database have now been assigned a unique BSIN code. The brand repository is available under an MIT licence via our API or by bulk download.  We can easily foresee the use of BSIN by all the product related applications and its use in the APIs of other system.

Ultimately, it will be possible to group brands by brand owners (i.e. all the brands belonging to Unilever or Pepsico) using OpenCorporates, for example, or link brands to resources such as wikipedia, and find the history of the brand using organisational registries like the INPI in France. 4,000 brands is only just the beginning. We will continue to add brands to our repository and users can recommend brands to add to the repository as well.

If you would like to be involved in the management of this repository (no technical skills required) or to participate in the development of the brand repository platform (Python / Django / Postgre), introduce yourself on the mailing list or find us on Github. We have a long way to go before we can truly link every product to its respective brand and owner but being able to identify and assign brands is an important first step.

 

Who is hiding behind the barcode?

Katelyn Rogers - October 16, 2013 in Uncategorized

GS1 GEPIRProducts are part of our everyday life but it is not always easy to know who actually produces the products that we buy. GS1 has developed a solution  but have, of late, been restricting access to this service, excluding consumers and prioritising corporations.

GS1, the organisation responsible for assigning Global Company Prefixes, has privileged access to essential product data on a global scale and is well placed to create a centralised product database. The organisation has shown interest in creating this database in accordance with open standards; however, last week, just as we launched our new working group seeking to scale our open product database, we discovered that GS1 France is doing just the opposite.  

GEPIR (Global Electronic Party Information Registry) is an internet based service that connects people to information about products using GS1 identifiers such as the GTIN code, serial shipping container code (SSCC) or the Global Location Number (GLN). The service allows users to access product information such as the company name, company location and contact information for the company (i.e. company website). Until recently, this service was available to consumers and businesses alike although there were limitations on the maximum number of searches allowed per day.

GS1-supply-chain

Last week, however, the French GEPIR service changed their policy. Now, in order to use the service you have to register and to register you need to provide a French Enterprise Identification Number (SIREN). Meaning, now, in France, the GEPIR search function is only available for registered companies to use,;consumers have lost access to access to this information.  Premium access is also available and allows companies to automatically conduct GEPIR searches from the company’s internal information system, simplifying supply chain management, market research etc. Unfortunately, this service is available only to those who can afford to pay.

How would an Open Product Data help?

An open product database would allow programmers to build their own product search applications, potentially improving upon the GEPIR search function while not restricting access. GEPIR is marketed as a tool helping companies uncover who is hiding behind a barcode; we are merely suggesting that this be something we should all have access to.

Open Product Data for the Future Consumer

Katelyn Rogers - October 14, 2013 in Uncategorized

The world’s largest open product database joins Open Knowledge Foundation and you can get involved!

We vote with our wallet everyday, but are rarely aware of everything we endorse through our purchases. Product supply chains are complex, our ethical preferences are diverse and in practice we, as consumers, do not have the time or knowledge to make fully informed purchasing decisions. That is why we need build new tools, tools that empower us with the information we need to make purchasing decisions that are right for us, our families and our community; only then can we truly vote with our wallet. The newest Open Knowledge Foundation working group is doing just that. We are building the consumer tools of the future and changing the consumer experience.

Barcodes are the key to unlocking the potential of product data. For over 40 years, GS1 has contributed to the standardisation of barcodes across the world. GS1 assigns manufacturers a GCP (Global Company Prefix) code, which is used by the company to generate unique identification numbers for all their products (the GTIN code or barcode). As a result, GTIN codes are a unique and standardised identifier for the vast majority of products sold across the world.

There is just one problem: product data is public but not open. Manufacturers assign a GS1 GTIN code to each of their products and they print this code on the packaging, meaning that GTIN codes are publicly available. However, they do not provide a digital catalogue of all their products meaning GTIN codes are not open.

A database containing the GTIN codes, in addition to other product identifiers such as the GLN (Global Location Number) and GPC (Global Product Classification), is a crucial first step in developing the consumer tools of the future. Opening up product data can:

  1. Empower Consumers by allowing third parties to build applications that provide consumers with the information they need to make smart purchasing decisions. From applications that provide consumers with information about the allergens contained in certain foods to applications that calculate and compare the air miles or carbon footprint of similar products, using barcodes in combination with other data allows for countless applications to be built that will inform and empower consumers.
  2. Improve Efficiency by helping humanitarian organisations, charities and food banks manage their supply of donated products or providing individuals with information about how and where to recycle a product according to local ordinances and their location.
  3. Generate Economic Growth and Innovation by creating an entirely new channel of communication for discovering and discussing products. Imagine simply scanning a barcode and seeing product advertisements, seeing customer reviews, seeing suggested recipes and so on, all in real time.

Product Open Data (POD), founded by Philippe Plagnol, represents the first step in opening up product data. Philippe, working independently on the database since November 2012, has begun building a product database that currently contains over one million product GTIN numbers (of which 400,000 are already matched to their brand, GCP and GPC), over 600,000 images and 4,000 brands, all open for anyone to use, reuse and redistribute. Philippe has proved that a product database is possible, we are building a community to make it scalable.

The Open Product Data Working group will provide a new home for POD and a space for a community of builders, thinkers and advocates to come together and share, discuss, learn and create. Join us on our mailing list, start contributing on GitHub, find out more at product.okfn.org and follow us on twitter @openproductdata.

POD-la-liberte-guidant-le-peuple-02

Eugène Delacroix, “la liberté guidant le peuple”, 1830 – redesigned by Jessica Dere

Opening Product Data for a more responsible world

Katelyn Rogers - September 13, 2013 in Uncategorized

By Philippe Plagnol: Founder of Product 

Data on the products we buy is rarely viewed as something to be opened. But in fact, the international standards that make it possible for products to be traded across borders can be used by consumers for their own ends – to help improve information-sharing and choice across the planet. There is currently no public database of this information – but we’re working to change that at [Product Open Data](http://www.product-open-data.com/).

POD-la-liberte-guidant-le-peuple-02
*Eugène Delacroix, “la liberté guidant le peuple”, 1830 – redesigned by [Jessica Dere](http://www.foxadesign.fr/)*

###Opening Product Data

When a consumer buys a product he gives power to a manufacturer, enabling it to continue or to extend its activities. A public worldwide product database would allow consumers to get information in real time, by scanning the barcode with a mobile phone, or to publish their opinions about specific products in a way that others can easily access. The consumer would have the tools to make decisions based on their own concerns about health, nutrition, ecology, or human rights, and to make ethical, dietary or value-based purchases.

[GS1](http://gs1.org/) is a worldwide organization which assign to a product a unique code that people can see below the barcode (called the [GTIN code](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_Trade_Item_Number)). There are billions of product commercialized in the world, and the full GTIN code list is stored only in GS1 database. The objective of POD (Product Open Data) is to open product data by gathering these key codes, and collecting product information from the manufacturer by creating a new RSS standard around this data (called PSS – Product Simple Syndication).

The POD database contains currently 1.4 million products. The most difficult task is to assign to each product a classification [GPC code](http://www.gs1.org/gdsn/gpc/what), which carries information about the particular type of product that it is. GPC codes are an international standard – GS1 has already assigned 10 million of them – but many e-commerce sites have developed their own taxonomies, which makes it difficult to compare product-types across sellers and to find the correct GPC codes online. Other challenges are finding information like the brand, dimensions, and packaging, and lastly but crucially, to guarantee the quality of data. The database and pictures are free to access.

###Why is this important?

There are a whole load of reasons why opening product data is a really important step:

– WIth the GTIN Code as a unique identifier, consumers will be able to communicate about a specific product across the world.

– Almost all manufacturers around the world are covered by GS1, which is focused on supply chain. By developing an open database, a new organization with the same power will be created as a counterpoint, but focusing on consumers’ right

– Organizations dealing with health, ecology, and human rights will be able to provide their own criteria about products very easily using the GTIN Code.

– Individuals will be able to raise a risk or an alert about a product. A set of rules will have to be defined to avoid buzz triggers with wrong information.

– Marketing and commerce will change a lot because consumers will have new inputs to decide what to buy (e-reputation)

– Smartphone apps and a community will build around product knowledge.

Whether you’re interested in open source and open data, the protection of consumers, or the protection of the environment, we’d love to [hear from you](mailto:philippe.plagnol@product-open-data.com). Together we can join forces in an innovative project which is good for our planet.