Locking Up Any Open Data Taxonomy Is Short Sighted In Todays Online
12 Nov 2017
I published a taxonomy API as part of my Human Services Data API (HSDA) work recently, and as part of the work I wanted it to support a handful of the human services taxonomies available currently. The most supported taxonomy available out there is the AIRS/211 LA County Taxonomy. It is a taxonomy in use by 211 of LA County, as well as owned and licensed by them. From what I gather, it is the most common format in use, and you can find licensing pages for it from other municipal 211 providers. Before you can download a copy of the taxonomy you have to agree to the license I’ve posted at the bottom of this post, something I was unwilling to do.
Taxonomies shouldn’t be locked up this way. Let alone taxonomies for use in open data, helping citizens at the municipal level. I understand that 211 LA will argue that they’ve put a bunch of work into the schema, and therefore they want to protect what they view their intellectual property, but in 2017 this is wrong. This isn’t the way things should be done, sorry. The AIRS taxonomy should be openly available, and reusable in a machine readable format, and evolved by an open governance process. There is no reason for this valuable taxonomy, that has the potential to make our cities better, should be locked up like this–it needs to be widely used, and adopted without any legal friction along the way.
I understand that it takes work, and resources to keep a taxonomy meaningful, and usable, but we should not stand in the way of people finding human services, and restricting 211 providers from using the same vocabulary. There are other was to generate revenue, and evolve forward a taxonomy in an online, collaborative environment, much like we are currently doing with open source software. This kind of stuff drives me nuts, and the licensing around this important technology is something I’ll keep an eye on, and contributing whatever I can to help stimulate the discussion in favor of open sourcing. In the absence of AIRS, I have adopted an open source 211 taxonomy called Open Eligibility, but alas it seems like an effort that has gone dormant. I have forked the specification, added more simpler JSON, CSV, and JSON formats which I will be working with it alongside the rest of my Human Services Data API (HSDA) taxonomy work.
Taxonomy licensing is another area of consideration I’ll add to my API licensing research, as well as for guidance around my HSDA work. I wish this type of stuff didn’t still happen in 2017. It is a relic of another time, and in a digital age, taxonomies for any aspect of public infrastructure should be openly licensed, and reusable by everyone. I would like to see Open Referral expand its portfolio to push forward one or more taxonomies for not just human services, but also organizations, locations, and potentially other relevant schema we are pushing forward. I see Open Referral as an incubator for schema, OpenAPI definitions, as well as datasets like 211 taxonomy, helping provide a commons where 211 organizations can find what they need.