psi_logo 5959118186_19582c7b84_m@ePISplatform features fairly prominently in the stream of tweets that waft across my desktop every day – it comes from the European Public Sector Information (PSI) Platform (Europe’s One-stop Shop on PSI re-use) Working to stimulate and promote PSI re-use and open data initiatives.

In amongst the useful pointers to news, comment, and documents, I have been recently conscious of an increasing flow of tweets like these:

ePSIplatform (epsiplatform) on Twitter-2
ePSIplatform (epsiplatform) on Twitter-1
ePSIplatform (epsiplatform) on Twitter
ePSIplatform (epsiplatform) on Twitter-3

This is good news.  More and more city, local, national governments and public bodies releasing data as open data.  Of course the reference to open here is in relation to the licensing of these data, but how open in access are they?  It is not that easy to find out.

To be truly open and broadly useful data has to be both licensed openly, with few or no use constraints, and have as few technical barriers to consuming it as possible.  In many cases there will be enough enthusiasts for a particular source with the motivation to take data in whatever form, and pick their way through it to get the value they need.  These enthusiasts provide great blogging fodder and examples for presentations, but do not represent the significant value that should, and is predicted to, flow from the open data and transparency agenda spreading through governments across the globe.

5 star mug The five star data rating scheme, from Sir Tim Berners-Lee, is a simple way to describe the problem and encourage publishers to strive to achieve a 5 star Linked Open Data rating, yet not discouraging openly publishing in any form in the first place.  Check out my earlier post What Is Your Data’s Star Rating(s)? when I dig in to both types of openness a bit further.

Policy makers and data openness enthusiasts who are behind this burgeoning flood of announcements [as a broad generality] get the licensing issues – use CC0 or copy the UK’s OGL.  However what concerns me is, they tend to shy away from promoting the removal of technical barriers that could stifle the broad adoption, and consequential flow of economic benefit, that they predict.

We could look back in a few years to this time of missed opportunity to say, it was obvious that the initiatives would fail because we didn’t make it easy for those that could have delivered the value.  We let the flood of enthusiastic initiatives wash past us without grabbing the opportunities to establish easy, consistent and repeatable ways to release and build upon the value in data for all, not just an enthusiastic few. We need to get this right if open data is going fuel the next revolution.

Quality Assurance - the Data Hub Some are thinking in the same way.  CKAN for instance have delivered an extension to calculate the [technical] openness of datasets as listed on the Dataset Openness Page of the Data Hub.  Great idea but I would suggest that most data publishers will never find their way to such a listing.  Where are the stars on the individual data set pages?  Where is the star rating badges of approval that publishers can put on their sites to show off?

We have made great strides so far in promoting the opening of public and other sector information, the ePISplatform stream is testament to that.  Somehow we need to capitalise on this great start and market the benefits of technically opening up your data better.  5 Star badge of approval anyone?

Stream photo from jjjj56cp on Flickr

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Many start with a large spreadsheet, or database, that they have never published to anyone before and are unsurprisingly a little concerned when confronted with feverous cries to publish everything as Linked Open Data – Now!

Relax – make yourself a mug of your favourite hot beverage and approach this rationally.

There have been many presentations, posts, and the like about taking things from Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s now famous ‘raw data now’ chant in his TED talk, to your data becoming a fully fledged member of the Linked Open Data Cloud .   I produced a blog post on this a while back entitled The Data Publishing Three-Step as a help to those considering taking this data journey.  Because that’s what it is, a journey.  A series of stages to go through as you address different aspects of the data open publishing process – each stage building on the previous in an achievable way.

5 star mug Whilst you are contemplating what might be the outcome of those stages, you would do no better than to be sipping your [by now probably only warm] beverage from a 5 Star data mug!  Emblazoned on its side are the 5 star ratings for Linked Open Data:

  1. * On the web, open licensed – get your data out there, in any form, for others to use under an open license, such as the Open Government License for Public Sector Information– clear and unambiguous.  For many, this is one of the significant steps, because it often includes the convincing of others that this might be a good idea.
  2. ** Machine-readable data  – make the data you have just published readable by software.  If it was a spreadsheet that you previously published as a nicely formatted pdf – make the Excel file available in addition.
  3. *** Non-proprietary format – publish a csv file as well, then it can be used in software and applications different from those Microsoft ones.
  4. ****RDF standards – start using URIs as identifiers – and publishing in RDF format.  This step is another that needs a bit more thought as to how you are going to describe your data
  5. *****Linked RDF – link, or use, identifiers in your data to identifiers published out on the wider web of data.  If you are using a UK post code – for example why not use the Ordnance Survey URI for it (http://data.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/id/postcodeunit/WR112RE)

Many of these steps could be taken in one go – you could go directly to 3* data in many cases.  Some of the steps could be taken by others on your behalf – converting your 3* data and republishing it as 5*.  There are many variations and options we come across when working with organisations to help them to confidently enter the world of Linked Data.

This post was also published on the Talis Platform Consulting Blog
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