Hacking data to build trust - Duedil.com’s Damian Kimmelman at Hacks/Hackers London

Martin Belam by Martin Belam, 27 February 2012
“Data is only interesting when it is findable, accessible, linked, visualised” - Damian Kimmelman, duedil.com founder, at Hacks/Hackers London

This month’s Hacks/Hackers London meet-up had a business theme to it, and the first talk was from Damian Kimmelman about duedil.com. The site - recently shortlisted for a Guardian MEGAS award by a judging panel that I chaired - brings together a host of data sources about businesses into one aggregated service. Damian had some great soundbites in his talk, and I found myself mostly noting down direct quotes.

He started by explaining that Duedil were still “hackers at heart”, and that despite acquisition offers, they were just trying to keep their heads down low and focus on pushing the service. They aim to aggregate data that is free or commoditised, and to make it free and open. “We try and make it sexy which is quite a feat” he said, arguing that “if you can make farming on Farmville sexy, you can surely make looking into a competitors’ financials somewhat intriguing.”

“Trust”, he said “is the social capital of business.” If you can trust someone to pay you on time, or to do a job quickly, then you can trust them enough to work with them, and a bank can understand that company enough to give them a loan. The more information you have about a company, the more insight you can have into that company. Duedil’s philosophy, Damian explained, is that if you build a trust system, then there are a lot of opportunities for revenue. One of the main pillars for trust is transparency. For example the site allows you to almost instantly map Tesco’s 19,000 corporate relationships.

One of the features Duedil has is LinkedIn integration - so you can look at the details of the companies in your network. It struck me that for journalists this might be quite a useful source acquisition tool. Damian said that they were planning to launch in several other countries, but that they had started in the UK because the UK was “data rich.”

“The status quo is that there a lot of billion dollar data silos across the web” he said, and that we are moving into a world where “everything that consumes electricity is going to be connected to the internet, and thus be a data provider.” He saw social media and digital developments from various governments promoting data openness, but didn’t think that had penetrated to the business world.

In questions afterwards Damian was slightly evasive when talking about Duedil’s data sources, saying “we are fairly agnostic, we will try and open up data whichever way possible” and “we’ve gotten flack for this but we will take it from whichever way we can get it most easily.” The value they add is in the cleaning and preparation of the data, and the fact that they are building an API on top of it.

There is a lovely turn of phrase on their website about the data they use from Companies House:

“How can you give it all away for free? Companies House doesn’t put any limit on how you use the information, once you have acquired it. This allows us to download the information, digitize it, graph it and give away, for free.”

It doesn’t quite say “SUCKERS LOLZ!”, but it nearly does. In his talk Damian said that to download data from the Companies House website “takes about 30 clicks” and then it is delivered as a PDF.

One of the questions at the end was about the persistence of provenance. A journalist asked “given that the data is a ragbag assortment that comes with a health warning” were Duedil.com worried about PRs trying to game the data or the service, or the misrepresentation of the data by people with vested interests?

I think it is a valid question for them as a start-up. Clearly they don’t have an editorial wing themselves, or experience yet of how the data might be used or mis-used. But it isn’t the first time I’ve heard this kind of question at Hacks/Hackers - where the “Hacks” worry about how the data-driven product delivered by the “Hackers” might mislead. Personally, given our industry’s track record of churnalism and reporting PR-led surveys as “news”, I’d back the people trying to make original source data available to the end user every time.

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Also on the bill at Hacks/Hackers last time around the FT’s Stephen Pinches was talking about their work on building web apps for smartphones and tablet devices. I’ll have my notes from that soon, and in the meantime, don’t forget you can catch up with the back catalogue of notes from Hacks/Hackers by buying my ebook for Kindle.

Hacks/Hackers London: Notes from the talks brings together notes from 16 talks, including those from Martin Rosenbaum, Stephen Grey, Alastair Dant, Scott Byrne-Fraser and Wendy Grossman. It looks at topics of interest to journalists and programers alike, including freedom of information, processing big data sets to tell stories, social activism hack camps, the future of interactive technologies, and using social media to cover your tracks - or uncover those of somebody else.
Hacks/Hackers London: Notes from the talks for Kindle is £1.14.

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