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Socrata announced today that they are preparing to release an open source, cloud-based, open data system, called the “Socrata Open Data Server, Community Edition.” If you don’t already follow what Socrata does, they are the data platform behind municipal open data initiatives like NYC City Data, San Francisco City Data and Data.gov.

The new Socrata Open Data Server is meant to be a reference for the open data standard they are actively evolving to promote data portability throughout open government data ecosystems, and support open source software policies in public organizations around the globe--called The Open Data Substrate.

The goal of the Socrata open source strategy is to enable customers to rapidly accelerate the process of breaking data out of traditional database “silos,” move it to the cloud and opening it for mass consumption to end users and developers.  The Socrata Open Data Server will support the ongoing evolution of open data standards in three key areas, that Socrata feels are required for a thriving open data ecosystem:

  1. Data Catalog Interoperability – Enable universal federation of different open data catalogs using a standard catalog schema, based on the W3C Data Catalog Vocabulary (DCAT)
  2. Data Portability Based on Standard Data Formats – Standardize outputs including JSON, XML, and CSV, as well as RDF and other Linked Data standards. The goal is to evolve towards standard schemas that developers can use for popular data sets, based on real-world examples and collaboration between data publishers
  3. Application Portability Based on Open Data API Standards – Standardize the Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) used to programmatically access open data, using established paradigms and protocols such as REST, HTTP, and Structured Query Language (SQL)

Socrata’s move to open source their technology is in line with their mission:

Socrata’s mission is to help government organizations everywhere reap massive economic benefits from data liberation by promoting unfettered access, shareability, consumability and reuse of public data.

And I share a similar vision with Socrata’s CEO Kevin Merritt:

"Socrata is constantly inventing new products that help people visualize and contextualize data in consumer-friendly web and mobile experiences, and as machine- and developer-ready APIs. We are part of a broader ecosystem that is creating massive downstream benefits and economic incentives for government to open the data floodgates,” adds Kevin Merritt. “It’s not enough to reduce friction in the supply of data, we also need to hardwire interoperability and data portability into the open data experience, to keep everybody honest and create a financially-sustainable business model for the entire ecosystem to thrive."

We need all city, county, state and federal goverment to have APIs. Let’s not stand in the way. The same can be said about the private sector--which is why I have been a proponent of more open source offerings in the API industry.

The Socrata Open Data Server will be released in the first quarter of 2013, as freely downloadable open source software, but will also come fully integrated with other components of the company’s commercial software products.

I’m excited by the opportunities for opening up government data with Socrata’s approach, but we all have a lot of work to do. We can’t expect government to do it all alone. Everyone needs to step up and help educated our local government about the potential of open data and APIs, and get involved and contribute to what Socrata has set into motion.




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