Philadelphia is unique among big cities in how it publishes open data for civic hackers, journalists, entrepreneurs, researchers and other users.
The City of Philadelphia has designated the community-built Open Data Philly website as it’s official data directory for open data – we’re the only big city in the country (maybe the only city period) that does not unilaterally control the data portal where city departments publish their data.
Pursuing a strategy like this is not without its challenges, but I believe that it is ultimately a better way to engage the community of users around open data releases. The members of our open data community are all stakeholders in the operation and management of the city’s open data portal. They can submit new data sources for inclusion in the portal, and they can suggest changes in how the platform works.
The federal government shutdown this week – which resulted in the federal open data site, data.gov, going offiline – offers an object lesson in the benefits of community managed open data portals like those in Philadelphia, Louisville, Colorado and other places. A government shutdown can’t impact sites that the government does not unilaterally control.
And this raises some interesting questions – can an open data initiative be truly open if the government that starts it can shut it down? What happens to an open data portal when municipal leaders that start open data initiatives leave office, are voted out or are replaced by those that are less enlightened?
Some things to consider as we continue to build our community here in Philly.