The Meedan Blog Archive

Why open data matters

We had a great team chat last night in which our VP of Engineering, Anas Tawileh, gave an impassioned defense of why it is so important to keep data open.

It was such fun, I want to share some of it with you now, by way of reminder as to why Meedan - and the other nonprofits we admire most - takes open source so seriously.

It feels like many debates really miss the point on this. The question at the front of my mind is not about whether licensing is inappropriate (or unnecessary) for data.

Some may well feel passionate about this and say, for example, creative commons licenses are inappropriate for cataloging records because records or facts are 'unlikely to be copyrightable'.

But in the context of crowdsourcing, it seems to be more about the work, the raw labor.

Volunteers need to know the ground rules they are entering into when they commit to taking part, and how their work will be shared, used and remixed in future.

That's why Meedan licenses all content on under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike 3.0 Unported License.

So the real question for me is how we take openness as an advocacy tool to encourage others on the web to open up.

In translation this is partcularly important.

Meedan is building an Arabic-English translation memory which will be open for other dialogue and translation projects to benefit from.

But aside from the obvious implicit benefits of building that translation memory, our translation memory will grow to become an advocacy tool.

If open source projects keep their data open and interoperable, this will gain momentum.

So, as Anas pointed out, if ever companies or organizations with extensive closed datasets want to use our open data, they will be forced to release everything under the same open source license as our own.

This was a message that came out loud and clear during a key summit of translators, social media nonprofits and translation technology experts in Amsterdam in June.

We can't leave it to the most powerful to do it for us.

Being open is great for sharing and gaining from the wisdom of the crowd - but it's also a fantastic advocacy tool.