Digital Democracy

A blog for the course New Media and a Democratic Society

Public Character of Records Might Depend on Context

Posted by clocke22 on October 30, 2010

“In the Mathworks competition there is an absolute, objective measure of success that’s immediately available – the score. The score acts as a signal telling every competitor where the best ideas are. This helps the community aggregate all the best ideas into a fantastic final product.” – Nielson

The idea of collective action for a final goal, where all members of society benefit, tends to go against the American ideal of the rugged individualist.  But, as the Mathworks competition illustrates, the results can be greater than any individual would attain on his or her own.

“A single piece of information designed to flow through the entire ecosystem of news will create more value than a piece of information sealed up in a glass box.” – Johnson

Individual works that remain open have more value to society than those in closed systems, although the value to the individual might be greater in a closed system.  The values at hand our different — the greater good or individual gain.

“By opening up public data, we saw an opportunity to make local government more efficient, transparent, accessible, and collaborative. From an economic development perspective, we viewed open data as an abundant raw material that, in skilled hands, could be transformed into a valuable asset with real social and economic benefits.”  – Skip Newberry

In the specific context of government information that is accessible to the public, opening data to the public can make economic sense for government entities who release raw information and leave it to other entities to tranform into valuable information.  Government entities also forgo economic benefits they could gain by releasing/developing the data with in-house, closed systems (state laws do recognize a copyright/proprietary interest in government-created software).

“The best way to ensure that the government allows private parties to compete on equal terms in the provision of government data is to require that federal Web sites themselves use the same open systems for accessing the underlying data as they make available to the public at large.” –Robinson, Yu, Zeller & Felten

In fact, requiring government to use open systems for government data will promote more opportunities for private parties to develop ways to access information, leading to greater access.

“Open data is a valuable resource to society, but simply posting it online is not enough. For data to be truly open, it must be stored in an open format through which it can be shared, repurposed, archived, and retrieved without risking obsolescence, unintended technological limitations, or requiring the use of proprietary applications. The format of the data determines the value of the resource and the extent to which it can be analyzed and repurposed.”  –  Chander Kant

There are varying levels of openness associated with puiblic records.  Government entities have an obligation to make records as transparent as possible, without hampering searches by bad technology or proprietary limitations.


3 Responses to “Public Character of Records Might Depend on Context”

  1. clocke22 said

  2. Wendy Brunner said

    I wish we had explored your idea about the rugged American individualist in class discussion–it’s an intriguing one. In legal research we tend to examine the Millsian ideal above most others given that’s what our founding fathers used as the basis for, and justification of, our Constitution. Yet you’re quite right; there is something of a uniquely American (or possibly Western?) idea of the rugged individualist that we revere in pop culture. We’re fascinated as a society by celebrities, entrepreneurs, athletes… yet we all know the old adage about the strength of the bundle of twigs. That’s what I thought of when I read Nielson… each open source change adds a twig to the bundle.

  3. I thought of academic journals when I read this: “Individual works that remain open have more value to society than those in closed systems, although the value to the individual might be greater in a closed system.”

    These benefit NO ONE when locked in their expensive databases — no one but the greedy publishers, who receive the articles without paying a penny for them!

    EXCELLENT post! Well done!

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