I used to privately poke fun at the Open Knowledge Foundation for what seemed like a never-ending stream of half-baked projects (and domains, websites, lists, etc). I was wrong.
(I have also criticized OKF’s creation of a database-specific copyleft license, but recognize its existence is mostly Creative Commons’ fault, just as I criticize some of Creative Commons’ licenses but recognize that their existence is mostly due to a lack of vision on the part of free software activists.)
Some of those projects have become truly impressive (e.g. the Public Domain Review and CKAN, the latter being a “data portal” deployed by numerous governments in direct competition with proprietary “solutions”; hopefully my local government will eventually adopt the instance OpenOakland has set up). Some projects once deemed important seem relatively stagnant, but were way ahead of their time, if only because the non-software free/open universe painfully lags software (e.g. KnowledgeForge). I haven’t kept track of most OKF projects, but whichever ones haven’t succeeded wildly don’t seem to have caused overall problems.
Also, in the past couple years, OKF has sprouted local groups around the world.
Why has the OKF succeeded, despite what seemed to me for a time chaotic behavior?
- It knows what it is doing. Not necessarily in terms of having a solid plan for every project it starts, but in the more fundamental sense of knowing what it is trying to accomplish, grounded by its own definition of what open knowledge is (unsurprisingly it is derived from the Open Source Definition). I’ve been on the advisory council for that definition for most of its existence, and this year I’m its chair. I wrote a post for the OKF blog today reiterating the foundational nature of the definition and its importance to the success of OKF and the many “open” movements in various fields.
- It has been a lean organization, structured to be able to easily expand and contract in terms of paid workers, allowing it to pursue on-mission projects rather than be dominated by permanent institutional fundraising.
- It seems to have mostly brought already committed open activists/doers into the organization and its projects.
- The network (eg local groups) seems to have grown fairly organically, rather than from a top-down vision to create an umbrella that all would
attach themselves toview with great skepticism.
OKF is far from perfect (in particular I think it is too detached from free/open source software, to the detriment of open data and reducing my confidence it will continue to say on a fully Open course — through action and recruitment — one of their more ironic practices at this moment is the Google map at the top of their local groups page [Update: already fixed, see comments]). But it is an excellent organization, at this point probably the single best connection to all things Open, irrespective of field or geography.
Check them out online, join or start a local group, and if you’re interested in the minutiae of of whether particular licenses for intended-to-be-open culture/data/education/government/research works are actually open, help me out with OKF’s OpenDefinition.org project.