Open Data: revamped portal and revised license

The Canadian government relaunched the Open Data portal on Tuesday, together with a new version of the Open Government Licence. The licence is an improvement; among other things they have removed some inapplicable language inherited from the British licence it was based on. (Teresa Cassa’s post here has more information on the legal aspects.) Canada also signed the G8 Open Data Charter.

A striking amount of main page real estate space seems to be taken up by government promotional material – that’s become a feature on most sites under this government, but these seem especially large. The search function may have improved, though I didn’t use the old one heavily enough to be certain. Main page navigation / browsing is still lacking, though you can do a reasonable approximation of a subject browse using search filters. Tracey Lauriault of spent some time looking around, so I’ll link you to her evaluation here.

Over all, I think the existence of an improved open data portal and licence constitutes a positive step, looked at separately from all this government’s other actions relating to data – something which I have trouble doing. (This article from the CBC has quotes from open government veterans Tracey Lauriault and David Eaves that encapsulate this unease better than I could.)

I think the G8 Charter has promise, however. I have doubts about what our current government will choose to release (or collect, or keep), and this doesn’t really alleviate them, though the commitment to release “high value data” (Annex 6.2) is worth noting. (Among other things, no apparent provision for archiving.) What it does do is lay out some guidelines for how data should be released, once the decision has been made to release them. The Technical Annex has some good language on open, machine-readable formats, APIs, documentation and metadata mapping.

This post from David Eaves goes into some more detail on the potential impact of those high value release commitments, and is definitely worth a read.


Closing of NRCan Libraries, or how we’re losing knowledge even as we open data

CAPDU member Tracey Lauriault of submitted this to the CAPDU mailing list.  I’m reposting with permission, as I think it helps illuminate the overall picture, of which the cuts at Statistics Canada that I’ve been focusing on are just a part. Please also have a look at her post Silencing the Archivists? Who does that? Canada does!

I never knew I would grow up to discover that the rock stars of my world would be librarians and archivists.  They have been the knowledge democratisers of the past couple of centuries and continue to be under the radar in terms of assuring that the public gets access to information resources.  They are however under attack from all sides, at a time when we need them more than ever.  Sure, their form and methods have to change, and they are, and media are shifting.  Irrespective, we need these data and info diggers more than ever, as it is still institutions that produce trusted, ‘official’ or peer reviewed knowledge, and their products are not always found or accessible via google search engines, no matter what all the new undergrads think.
Today I am working in a library, 615 Booth in Ottawa, one of my favourites, and it will most likely close in the next couple of years as did its other NRCan cousins:
  • Pacific Forestry Centre, Victoria BC
  • Northern Forestry Centre, Edmonton AB
  • CanmetENERGY, Varennes QC
  • CanmetENERGY, Bells Corner Complex, Ottawa ON
  • Mines and Minerals. 555 Booth St., Ottawa ON
The one I am in at the moment is under incredibly reduced public hours, and because I am doing some special work with older items in the collection, I have been given a kind of priviledged access.  The Mines and Minerals section for instance, contains our Canadian heritage in terms of mineral exploration in Canada, from 1842 onward when the Geological Survey of Canada began.  The history of resource discovery, documentation, and exploitation, is in fact the history of Canada and continues to be our economic driver, yet the information about it is becoming less and less accessible to us.
Sure, we are opening data, but data need context, classification systems emerged overtime even though we think the data we collect according to them are facts – they are – except, they are socially constructed scientific facts, the outcome of categorizing things a certain way according to a certain norm.  How those came to be are stored here, in the libraries.
Open data is mere technocracy if context associated with the data disappear.  The libraries hold that context and it is librarians who are the key to uraveling it.