Just Do It

I run a blog for a local nature reserve, Fleet Pond, which, as the name doesn’t suggest, is a rather large freshwater lake (see picture above when it was recently covered with snow).

In relation to this I noticed a post on the Zoho blog that discusses open data sharing for a local nature reserve in the UK. I’ve been toying with Zoho for couple of years now as a handy way to share information across communities, both for  a charity, Fleet Pond Society, and more widely.

I’ve also looked at related systems such as Huddle (which is free for charity use).

Investigating the links in the Zoho post lead to a document written by Tim Berners-Lee on putting Government data online which is amazingly refreshing in it’s candour. Here’s an extract (see under ‘Just Do It’):

The chances are quite high that the data your department/agency runs off will be largely in relational databases, often with a large amount in spreadsheets.

There are two philosophies to putting data on the web. The top-down one is to make a corporate or national plan, by getting committees together of all the interested parties, and make a consistent set of terms (ontology) into which everything fits. This in fact takes so long it is often never finished, and anyway does not in fact get corporate or national consensus in the end. The other method experience recommends is to do it bottom up. A top-level mandate is extremely valuable, but grass-roots action is essential. Put the data up where it is: join it together later.

A wise and cautious step is to make a thorough inventory of all the data you have, and figure out which dataset is going to be most cost-effective to put up as linked data. However, the survey may take longer than just doing it. So, take some data.

A really important rule when considering which data could be put on the web is not to threaten or disturb the systems and the people who currently are responsible for that data. It often takes years of negotiation to put together a given set of data. The people involved may be very invested in it. There are social as well as technical systems which have been set up. So you leave the existing system undisturbed, and find a way of extracting the data from it using existing export or conversion facilities. You add, a thin shim to adapt the existing system to the standard.

The crazy thing is that this example of a no-nonsense and wise appraisal of a real-world situation is so, so true and yet it’s still the exception rather than the rule.  So, hopefully, more candour in text and conversations in 2011 for better results!

See also here.

Candour: the quality of being open and honest (OED 2008).

Picture credit: above (me) and below here.


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