Document Freedom Day

Comma - Open

The news just went out that March 26 2008 will be the world's first Document Freedom Day, celebrating and championing the cause of true freedom for our data. You may recall that I wrote about this back in 2006 and also gave a speech at the European Commission. I coined the term "Freedom To Leave", referring to the liberty to take your data and go elsewhere uninhibited by DRM, closed interfaces or file formats that require a particular program for faithful reproduction and use.

I believe this to be the new front line in defending the freedoms of computer users. Richard Stallman's four freedoms are now driving the mainstream of software (especially here at Sun), and while software freedom is not yet a given, the next challenge for us is our freedom to own and move our own data anywhere, any time.

Defining Data Freedom

I believe there are multiple dimensions to data freedom.

  • There is the personal dimension - being able to take the data I "own" and use it with any software or service that's appropriate.
  • There is the historical dimension, ensuring future researchers have access to the electronic information that is driving directions in society today.
  • There is the commercial dimension, ensuring that data interfaces remain open, equitable and interoperable so that we have a fair yet competitive marketplace.
All of these converge on Document Freedom Day. I'll be taking time on March 26 this year to celebrate and campaign for each of us to have the Freedom to Leave, with our data - I hope you will too.



There's an aspect that may be implicit in your description but this is how I look at "data freedom".

\*Personal Ownership

You own your data but it's stored with a third party. You control how it's used. This doesn't require a open API, format, etc.

\*Portability of Data

You own it and is it easily taken with you to a new provider of whatever service (e.g. Facebook profile, Plaxo contacts to XYZ provider). This absolutely implies an open standard of some sort.

\*Permission to refactor and use

In your commercial example it's probably evident but what about community networks that share data where there is little direct commercial gain. For example, federated OpenID providers.

I would think about Gmail as the purely theoretical example. I want to be able to export my mail in an open form (i.e. mbox) and wipe it from the GMail servers once exported. Then I could export it to Yahoo! Maile. However, I may give them the permission to view some portion of my data. For example anonymously track my email habits (see what domains I send mail to but not individual email accounts, what subjects I email about). For a higher fee I might allow them to see my contacts (if I didn't value my friends) or send me contextual offers.

There could many spent having the conversation and I commend you for taking the initiative.

Posted by Mark Hinkle on February 20, 2008 at 04:41 AM PST #

Mark, that's a great alternative view, thank-you. I have been thinking about this for a while and plan to write much more.

Posted by Simon Phipps on February 20, 2008 at 08:30 AM PST #

I'd say that to write and talk about this in 2006 was rather visionary. :) I certainly will be remembering Document (data?) freedom day on 26th March. :)

I want to take charge of my data, not have a 3rd party provider, or another platform own my data in exchange for some functionality and god forbid advertising, or have some federated access to my data a scattered across the web...

Posted by Adriana on February 21, 2008 at 06:35 AM PST #

Simon, when we talk about the portability of data, not only raw data matters, but its more sophisticated, contextual form, as evolved naturally through the use of the platform by all those participating. This second order knowledge is what makes it useful, and it is what the platforms will be loath to let go. For example I do very little with a plain list of my connections as exported from a social network if I can't also export their respective relationships, the history of the pings/tweets/posts that weighted one more than the other.

With regards to the wider issue of Open Government Data, take a look at :)


Posted by David Orban on February 22, 2008 at 06:07 PM PST #

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Thoughts and pointers on digital freedoms and technology markets. With a few photos too.


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