Although open source and open data are phrases that have become more common in recent years, there is still some confusion about what the benefits are of each of these. In this short blog post, I will go through a few of the key reasons why the open philosophy is a good one.
- Community support
One of the best things about open source software and open data provision are the communities that grow up around these. In general, my experience has been that these communities are welcoming and helpful. I recognise that sometimes this may not be the case, but many communities are now taking active steps to include new members, irrespective of their skills (everyone can contribute something) and most have diversity policies in place to help this.
- Cutting edge
In general, open systems are rapidly developed and represent the newest of technology. However, alongside these cutting edge features is also often a long-term version of the data or software. With open systems you get the newest and most innovative, alongside reliability and stability.
The great thing about open software, standards and data is that all of these can be audited. If you want to know what something does, just look at the code. If you want to know how the data was processed, just look at the metadata and workflow notes. If you want to know how best to implement an API, just check out the standards documentation. Being able to do this gives peace of mind to the user.
- Fork it!
The great thing about anything that is open is that if it doesn’t fit your needs then you can change it. In software terms, this is called forking: taking a software repository, copying it and then creating the functionality in the copied version (usually done if your requirements aren’t going to be added to the original software project). The concept of changing the source can also be applied to open data and open standards, although given the efforts that usually go into obtaining community buy-in for each of those, this is less common than for software.
- Peace of mind
Many eyes are involved in the creation of open source code and the generation of open standards (and usually open data too). This should provide confidence that any malicious or bug ridden code, or any wrongly processed data, will be picked up and rectified quickly. This might be the case with closed, proprietary systems, but the user would not be aware of that.
- Low cost
No discussion of open systems would be complete without mentioning cost. Many people (hopefully not you!) see open source and open data as free. Yes, access to the project is usually at no charge, but we must remember that there is always a cost behind the scenes, whether that is hosting charges, developer time or something else. We can help by giving back in financial contributions, joining community organisations that support open projects, promoting the projects and in many other ways. Please don’t see open projects as just a way to cut costs.
Hopefully many of you are using open software, data, standards, communication and management techniques, etc. and are finding them useful. If not, then I recommend you investigate this way of working and living.