20110214/Canada open data

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On February 14, 2011, I had the opportunity to speak before a Canadian parliamentary committee on the topic of open data. I've copied the notes here.

It was an interesting experience. I think some of the MPs are genuinely engaged on the topic. Unfortunately, the House collapsed shortly after this event, and there was no real follow-up.

I'm going to take a chance here and post some raw thoughts.

Open data is a funny movement. Despite being about openness and connections, there are many complexities and disagreements, and most people don't really cooperate easily.

Chief among the complexities is the question of whether open data should have a "share-alike" restriction. This means that anyone who uses (in this case) government-provided data must make any derived content available under the same terms (sometimes called a "viral license"). Those arguing against "share-alike" generally think it makes using data too complicated, and that it makes data re-use unfriendly to business; they believe that business will provide more value if they don't have to meet this restriction.

People who want to see share-alike, like myself, are probably generally more idealistic. As I tried to say in the session, I would like to see linking and participation more normal parts of everyday culture; for example, a classroom session would link directly into the same databases government use. We're already seeing at least the mechanism for this with near-ubiquitous internet, smart phones and social networking.

I don't see why business can't benefit from being more open, and I would like to see people expect it. Those arguing against this view state most people don't care, and that's true, especially when they're blocked or not expected to care.

Anyway, everyone doesn't have to care, opening this up to a small percentage of people will have a profound effect. Most people know a few people who are 'nerdier,' and those friends can be edges into more supportive knowledge networks. Even idiots (which I can be at times) can be contributors if they expect real answers to their questions. Social media provides an ideal setting for these networks to develop. I think we need to look forward about ten years to what we want to see. A linked, open world is much more likely with share-alike type license, and I think it's most appropriate for publicly funded and concerned data.

I am not at all anti-business, but the current scheme will always involve creating more compromise. It's not just business either, my experience shows again and again that hospitals and other public institutions have incredible problems that are too readily accepted. I don't think there are any dangers involved in a more open world (barring witch hunts against corrupt players and simple human inabilities we all know exist), and I think we should work very intentionally toward a world where we don't need Wikileaks because everything is connected and open.

The interesting thing about opening and organizing systems is the "missing pieces" become very evident, so it would be possible, with enough people and perspectives involved, to create great systems where it's always possible to find out more and make contributions. There are too many good people who are disadvantaged, and I don't believe "full employment" serving business will ever be a solution. I believe the effects of massive openness and participation will lead to transformational efficiency and integrity that will allow more people to be positive and involved in shared systems.

Idealistic, yes, but with share-alike, we can work on creating that practical and better world. Without it, it's ultimately the same old, a new layer will form over the old layer and everyone in those layers with true access and ability will be squatters vying for more power as part of the pyramid scheme, working as much to create proprietary secrets as they do for real improvements. But I guess they gotta eat, right?


Blikied on Sep 17, 2011