[od-discuss] introduction

Peter Murray-Rust pm286 at cam.ac.uk
Fri Aug 13 16:01:12 UTC 2010

On Fri, Aug 13, 2010 at 4:30 PM, Tom Lee <tlee at sunlightfoundation.com>wrote:

> Hello all -- just a quick note to introduce myself.  I'm Tom Lee, director
> of Sunlight Labs, the technical arm of the Sunlight Foundation.  I'm looking
> forward to being a part of this important discussion, and hope that you'll
> all feel free to reach out to me individually if there's some way that I or
> Sunlight can be of help to you.

I reach out!

> Rufus has already posted our just-released set of ten open data principles
> (http://sunlightfoundation.com/policy/documents/ten-open-data-principles/)
> to this list, so perhaps I ought to begin by mentioning it. First: I'd be
> glad to hear any thoughts or suggestions for improvement that it might
> prompt.  We're offering it in the spirit of evolutionary enhancement of work
> that Sunlight had previously participated in -- a necessary update to a tool
> we'd already been using.  Our experience lobbying the government has
> convinced us that achieving openness is more about fostering a norm than
> about finalizing a spec, which makes us less worried about the dangers of
> proliferating standards, so long as they're broadly in agreement (though I
> certainly understand and respect the fact that others may disagree).

I agree with all of this. I think your principles are at the right level and
(until I have had time to think more) seem reasonably comprehensive.  You
are probably aware of our work on the Panton Principles (
http://pantonprinciples.org/ ) for Scientific Data which have a slightly
different emphasis (partly beacuse of the different approach to publishing
science). I think they interleave well with yours (and could, for example,
work for government scientific data).

We felt it important to get principles rather than hard rules (licences,
standards) and I agree about trying to foster norms. What is clear (at least
in science) is that the practice of data publication has a lot or wrinkles
that are not present in publishing manuscripts/documents. You allude to some
of them - open software for reading, for example. Complex data sets are
often put together purely for the use of an initially closed community and
then it becomes difficult to make them available more widely.  So an
additional principle might be to plan for distribution when the data set is
conceived. Of course that isn't always possible.

The details matter and so I have drafted a set of discussion papers for
various aspects of Open Data - the Panton Papers - which anyone is welcome
to hack. I think any of these principle-based approaches will need a lot of
supporting material.


> Tom
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Peter Murray-Rust
Reader in Molecular Informatics
Unilever Centre, Dep. Of Chemistry
University of Cambridge
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