Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Have your cake and eat it

Does your so-called open data pass the cake test? Can you have a baker put a picture of it on a cake for you? If you can't figure this out in a minute or two (hmm, the baker profits commercially, and redistributes, is that ok?) then the data isn't very open, is it? (Here's the original post, in Spanish)

API versus downloadable dataset

There's an interesting discussion on Nat Friedman's blog about API versus downloadable data. Lots of new data sources are popping up online that wrap up their databases in a nice friendly fashion, which is great, but sometimes it would be very useful to cut out the middleman and grab the databases directly. Mark Colburn brings up some reasons to prefer an API, including clarity of provenance, reliability of data, and maintaining control over updates.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The open data movement

A short inspirational talk from Tim Berners-Lee at TED: the year open data went worldwide. He gives real-world examples of open data making a difference to people's lives, from avoiding bicycle accidents to recovery in Haiti.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

UK address database

Tom Hughes has posted a response to a consultation about releasing Ordnance Survey data in the UK. He gives a very good summary of the current options for licensing open data (we are ourselves trying to figure out how to communicate clearly about this). Along the way, he speaks in favor of a national address register in the UK, for an interesting reason:
I believe that there would be significant benefit to the release of an address product, if only to try and break the current deadlock that apparently exists in government and avoid the current crazy situation where different branches of government appear to be competing with each to maintain their own address databases. Perhaps the craziest product of this infighting is the decision of the Office for National Statistics to create (at a cost of at least 12 million pounds) yet another address database in order to deliver the 2011 census. They then propose to discard that database once the census is complete.
Data often gets stuck in single projects or communities, even with the best of intentions. The Fórum Brasileiro de Economia Solidária, which has done massive well-funded surveys of organizations in Brazil, apparently filters out organizations that don't in the end meet the specific criteria they care about from their searchable, mappable online index. Hopefully the data isn't thrown away, but it certainly isn't easy to get to.

On the one hand, it is great to have a laser-like focus on one's community or project. However it is sad to miss out on the opportunities that collaboration with partially overlapping communities or projects can bring. The benefits are fuzzier and longer-term, but no less real.

However, making data public is hard work, and costly. Lowering that cost is a goal of the DCP. That will make it easier for organizations to justify the decision to divert some resources from achieving their own objectives to helping others achieve theirs, when the benefit to them of doing so is speculative rather than known from precedent.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Nonprofit mapping, an illustrated guide

The folks at maptogether.org have put together a fun and friendly Illustrated Guide to Nonprofit GIS and Online Mapping. Check out the clever cover graphic.

Here's what they have to say about obstacles to mapping projects (page 15):
Privacy: many nonprofit organizations collect address or other relevant data about their constituents, clients, donors, partners, and other community members. It's crucial to safeguard any data that has an expectation of privacy.

Community representation: it's critical that all stakeholders are considered during mapping/GIS projects, especially those projects that will influence decisions made concerning the community in question.

Discrimination issues: maps and GIS have been used to promote diversity, fair housing, and fair election practices, but they've also historically been used for discriminatory purposes against certain races or groups.

Intellectual property issues: in addition to software licensing issues concerning mapping/GIS software, many sources and types of data are embargoed by various intellectual property protections, such as copyrights and license agreements.
Along the way, they point to an interesting article on Idealware, on Understanding the Alphabet Soup of Data Exchange, which is a good general summary of the challenges of data integration in non-profits.

Making open data useful

Interesting post on the "tragedy of Edmontorcouver open data" from an OpenStreetMap contributor. They argue that municipal efforts at releasing data don't have the impact that they might have, because of the following mistakes (Edmontorcouver seems to be a fictional placename, but this presumably reflects experience with real towns is Edmonton/Toronto/Vancouver):
  1. They expected a new community to build itself.
  2. They wrote their own license.

Here's the advice given for rescuing such efforts:
  1. Curate your data and make it the best data possible.
  2. License the data with the PDDL.

The argument is that the municipality shouldn't be in the business of "curating" a community, since they won't be very good at it, and there are better curators already out there (e.g. the OpenStreetMap community). The municipality should focus on allocating resources to getting local experts to curate the local data. Similarly for the license, the municipality shouldn't be in the business of curating a custom license now that there are serviceable options already out there:

... the good folks at the Open Data Commons make it easy to select an appropriate license for your open data. Use the Public Domain Dedication and License if you want protect your interests by disclaiming liability and you want your data to have the widest possible audience. [Hint: you do!]