/ data


"We may generalize and say that the average child in our society generally prefers a safe, orderly, predictable, organized world, which he can count, on, and in which unexpected, unmanageable or other dangerous things do not happen, and in which, in any case, he has all-powerful parents who protect and shield him from harm." -- A. H. Maslow (1943)

The free/open technology community puts average, un-glorified, plain-old-human-beings in the centre of attention. It is not about shell wizardry and other advanced tools for SuperUsers. It is not about putting your data life into the hands of machine processes you cannot understand. It is about helping individual users overcome our fear of being run over on the way across the information highway, about having tools like Linux or Wikipedia that we can really own and share - that can exist only by virtue of the combined effort of thousands of like-minded contributors.

Big data, fake news, information overload, trolling, phreaking, hijacking, spamming, phishing, the weaponizing of algorithms, the misuse and abuse of public infrastructure. There is much about Information Technology that muddles, shocks and bewilders us, leaving us in a child-like state, desperate for "all-powerful parents" to take matters into their hands. Groups like the Chaos Computer Club especially resent this situation, taking political action to build up awareness and resilience in the population. Services like Have I Been Pwned aim to help Joe and Jane User in their troubles.


We should be - I am - concerned by all of these bewildering dangers, and the first of them is most worrysome, as it is in some ways the most subtle. Being 'submerged' by data, told what we can afford or where we can travel on the basis of 'evidence' procured from inaccessible and ineffable sources. The information flood making us feel small, unworthy, like a bug caught in a bucket in the rain. Swim like mad, or drown ...

Forced to scan and skim to keep up, we are losing our abilities to pay sustained attention, reflect deeply, or remember what we’ve learned. -- N. Carr (2011)

... there is, surely, a better way. Thanks to some visionary people who have applied themselves tirelessly, there is.

Snapshot of GitHub activity of @rufuspollock

The yáng to Big Data's yīn, Open Data is an idea that aims to involve more people directly in the production, evaluation, and application of data, usually through the use of open source software, open data licenses and Open business models. This helps to lead to a more open, participative, caring and productive society - in Switzerland represented politically by the Digital Sustainability (Digitale Nachhaltigkeit) parliamentary group, the Opendata.swiss federal government project, as well as numerous grassroots initiatives and associations like Digitale Allmend focusing on cultural commons, ONIA building open networks, and Opendata.ch - the Swiss chapter of Open Knowledge: running infrastructure, organizing hackathons, and encouraging others to do likewise.

The API of the CKAN open source directory that provides the backend to Opendata.swiss and thousands of such portals around the world, is a tool used to harvest and federate open data between catalogues. Internet-based open databases, from countless search engines and APIs to blockchains have become the foundation for enablers of the information society. The cards are still falling: the struggle to make data proprietary, locked up and monetized, to restrict access in a myriad ways, the balancing acts of protecting individual privacy, the challenges of keeping up quality of service for millions of users. All this promises to keep this community busy for a long time to come.

With the Frictionless Data standards led by an international team with Rufus Pollock, we are aiming to build next-generation further decentralized technologies, and start exemplary projects to containerize and distribute open data in new ways. You will encounter them whenever you try to download data online that is, according to the Open Definition "subject, at most, to measures that preserve provenance and openness".

Often you will find that such data is better supported by a community of publishers and users, who have found an alternative to the data sharing and content licensing agreements of the past. In open data communities, people work together to enhance and ensure the lasting value of data sources on the basis of various models of cooperation, from hackathons.

The summer ahead promisees to be a busy, exciting time. In between launching engineering projects like SmartUse and supporting a range of community efforts, our 7th annual conference and community gathering in Sankt Gallen on July 3, hosting hackathons and workshops, and this week the launch of an important new book.

Rufus Pollock will be making a visit to Switzerland, for working meetings with supporters of Open Knowledge and sessions to redefine plans for the Chapter. He will also be speaking about the open revolution at Opendata.ch/2018. See you in the future!