What we need ain’t just OPEN data but also ACCESSIBLE data

For those of you who know this subject, you’ll know already where I’m going.

For example, on my local council’s website, we have this introduction to the subject of “open data”:

Open data is about increased transparency and about sharing the information we hold with the wider community, to allow them to use the information as they see fit. To achieve this aim, the data must be in open, machine readable formats that can be easily reused.

We’ve created an Open Data section to help:

  • Make data we hold available online (unless private or sensitive).
  • Encourage residents, businesses and other interested parties to interrogate the data and develop applications, hacks and widgets.
  • Increase transparency and accountability.

This is really good, and much appreciated – probably legislated somewhere too; but let’s really not be churlish.

The site links to an explanation of the term “open” when used in this context, which is useful and constructive.  Wikipedia says similar things:

Open data is the idea that some data should be freely available to everyone to use and republish as they wish, without restrictions from copyright, patents or other mechanisms of control.[1] The goals of the open data movement are similar to those of other “Open” movements such as open source, open hardware, open content, and open access. The philosophy behind open data has been long established (for example in the Mertonian tradition of science), but the term “open data” itself is recent, gaining popularity with the rise of the Internet and World Wide Web and, especially, with the launch of open-data government initiatives such as Data.gov and Data.gov.uk.

The “open” bit relates primarily to the licences, the conditions of use and reuse etc.  What I suspected, but also – I realise in hindsight – not exactly what I was looking for.

I’ve already discussed on these pages how the same council doesn’t have RSS feeds on any of its web pages – though they have said they would consider them if there was evidence of a desire amongst its users to have the facilities.

Meanwhile, I’ve been working on adding such feeds, where they exist (local newspapers, blogs, etc do have them), in order that we may have a citizen-managed overview of what’s going on in the city of our residence.

I’ve even created, alongside the original chester.wiki, a more localised chester.wiki/upton (the village where I live).  The content is pretty much the same at the time of writing, as in order to create the new Dashboard (site) all I did was press a button and clone the old one.

So over the afternoon, on and off, I’ve been looking around for more localised information to include on the Upton version of the “news-wiki” idea I’m developing.

I stumbled across a WordPress.org-based site which is run by my local parish council.  It’s a beautifully presented site – clearly some thought has gone into its making and content development.  However, at least today, there is one thing that was missing from a standard WordPress.org installation: RSS feeds.  What’s more, the whole site, even the bits of it relating to regularly updated items, appears to have used the “pages” format of WordPress.org instead of the far more functional blogging engine.  We have, essentially, a static website using a blogging platform, with regularly updated pages that don’t use blogging technology!

I don’t know if the RSS has been left off by accident, if I’m simply unable to find it or if the site is in a kind of lockdown mode for some reason or other, but it’s a pretty sad state of affairs any way you look at it that both the main council website as well as what I assume is this official parish council site should choose to make it necessary for citizens and journalists to physically return to its pages every day to check if there have been any updates, instead of taking the cheaper, terribly simple alternative of using automatically notifying RSS feeds.

What’s more, the advantage of RSS feeds from a marketing point of view is that anyone can embed the content, so freely spreading the message of the originator.  Surely this is something that any public body must embrace.

Which brings me to what I realise I’m actually looking for in order that very local news-wikis may get off the ground: not just open data, where the licences offer reusability, remixing and transformation in exchange for proper attribution etc, but also accessible data.  Make it as easy as possible for an ordinary citizen to reuse, remix and transform your information.  Don’t demand that your website or Twitter feed or Facebook page be the only ways the citizens you serve can engage, get closer and – why not? – examine you!

What we need ain’t just OPEN data but also ACCESSIBLE data