Last week Michael Gurstein attended OKCon2011 in Berlin and wrote a blogpost
which was critical of OKCon and/or OKF (not sure which). It upset some of my colleagues but frankly bewildered me – despite reading the debate on his blog. He seems to have picked up (and probably amplified) a thread of subculture which I don’t recognize even if I look for it. Here’s an example:
“these World of Warcraft warriors off on a joust with various governmental dragons.” …
“I see a huge disconnect between the idealism and the passionate belief in the rightness of their cause and the profound failure to have any clear idea of what precisely that cause is and where it is likely to take them (and us) in the very near future.”
I do not recognize me and my collaborators in this description.
Strangely (to me) all the initial comment was highly favourable. Jordan Hatcher replied making it clear EXACTLY what openness is and pointing Michael to the Open Knowledge Definition. A definition which has emerged from the mainstream of Open Source thinking and practice.
The Open Definition, linked to from the OKFN homepage and discussed during at least some of the sessions of OKCon, defines _exactly_ what “openness” means in the context of the Open Knowledge Foundation: http://www.opendefinition.org/
Of course you shouldn’t confuse one organisation with an entire movement. Other organisations and individuals, including those that presented their views at the conference, may feel differently about openness and what it means.
Inside your post you mention two good examples of goals that someone (a government, an academic, or an NGO, etc) may want to achieve with making data more accessible:
1) More political participation by currently underrepresented groups
2) Participation by those without technical skills or other access to technology
I’ll generally sum these up as saying using data to help bridge the digital divide.(PMR’s emphasis)
This is a great end goal, however in order for a anyone looking to help solve digital divide issues by building technical tools — or even non-technical tools — if those tools involve data, they will need:
1) access to the data
2) legal rights to use and reuse the data
Michael, were you are Glyn Moody’s (on OKF advisory board) opening keynote? Where he highlighted the threat we face from all forms of monopoly and closed practice? Or Richard Stallman (whom I missed because I was running a session on Open Science)? Or Brewster Kayle (who built the Internet Archive) whom I also missed because I was running a session on Open access to Bibliographic data – a struggle which matters critically. These represent the thinkers that the OKF wishes to learn from.
Jordan and I’m on the advisory board so you can now have more examples of the sort of things that OKF cares about.
Tim Hubbard, head of Bioinformatics at the Sanger Centre UK (“where part of the human genome was sequenced”). There was a titanic struggle for Openness over the genome. It could have become commercial. Where only the rich and powerful could access genomic information. Tim and many others have battled for over a decade to keep genomic information free. OUR information. And we need to OKF as a centre to exchange practices, ideas, meet people, etc. Genomic information matters. Without it we have impoverished science and medicine.
Jo Walsh, (EDINA, a publicly supported informatics resource at the University of Edinburgh). “I helped to run a Public Geodata campaign with OKF support back in 2005-6. This focused deliberately on “state-collected” data in response to a bit of European law.” Jo, and others like her, work out all the aspects of making geodata serve the world community – semantics, coordinate systems, licences, practices, etc. I recently submmited a grant application with Jo. This is mainstream, publicly funded, research infrastructural work.
And me. You ask me…
I’ld like to have some clarity from you/the OKF as to whether they see “Open” data/knowledge as a “public” or a “private good” in the terms pointed to by Parminder Jeet Singh in an earlier comment to this blogpost? By this I mean is “openness” as you folks interpret it a characteristic to be enjoyed (or “consumed”) by an individual in his private capacity (based on his individual means for accessing and making use of the “open” data/knowledge etc.) OR is “openness” something that is to be enjoyed (or “consumed”) by the “public” in which case in addition to ensuring the “openness” of the data/knowledge etc. there is an obligation to ensure that the conditions and pre-conditions for such broad based public enjoyment and use are also associated with the open data/knowledge etc.
I’m an academic at Cambridge, UK and I am funded by the public purse (JISC) to work with OKF. We have two projects. JISCOpenbib which in a year has created the technology , the protocols, the practice and the licences to make 30 million bibliographic records Open. We’ve developed a new, lightweight universal approach to managing bibliographic references. We’ve published this Openly in an Open Access journal so that everyone including you can read it. It is awaiting peer-review but because it’s Open we can post the manuscript and I’d ask you to read it – or at least parts. If you don’t understand it or think it’s badly written or simply wrong let us know. See http://www.dspace.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/238394 . The work would not have happened without OKF, the paper would not have been written and the very cool visualizations are an example of the sort of thing that is mainstream for OKF. (The other project OSID is funded by UK government (BIS) and is looking at the outcomes of mainstream research funding – what effect does grant XY12345 have on understanding climate change.
Science is currently for the privileged few in rich universities. If a citizen wants access to research information they have to pay the publishers. See the first 10 minutes of Larry Lessig’s talk at CERN http://vimeo.com/22633948 where he shows that the top 10 papers about his child’s illness would cost 500 USD to read (rented for 2 days only). He calls it:
The Architecture of Access to Scientific Knowledge
I am one of many designing and building that architecture. That’s an example of what the OKF is for me.