04 October 2010

Open Data vs Open Source

Open source and open data are two different things.  They are not related any more than they are both part of a current larger overall trend toward openness, and they both happen to involve a computer.

The temptation however is to treat them the same, and to pursue them both at the same time. In fact, I recently realized that I personally have been collapsing the two concepts. I was resisting proprietary software use in open data because the companies that produce the software have been so opposed to open source software.

However, to argue that governments should both "liberate public data" and "use open source software" is to confuse the matter. I personally would like to see both happen but I choose to focus on open data because I think it will provide immediate value for government.

Insisting that government use open source tools to produce that open data makes the issue unnecessarily complicated.  Governments are used to using whatever tools they are using and it's usually easiest for them to release data using their existing tools.

One of the greats thing about open data from the technical point of view is that it's really not very complicated. Governments have a myriad of technically complex data issues to deal with, but open data is not one of them. Pretty much any system that contains data can dump that data to an open format such as XML or CSV. The tools used to develop these systems come with this sort of support built in and the hosting is not complicated.

Open data is complicated in other ways, yes.  Open data is a policy issue. It's also a communication issue. It's also an attitude issue. But it's not a technical issue.  No special software is required, no special technology is required, no special hosting is required and no special security is required.  Because in the case of open data we actually WANT people to get the data.