Card Catalog by Glyn Lowe on Flickr -

Towards an Ontology of the Open

One idea has been forming in my mind over the past year, as a combination of different experiences that I’ve seen over different communities dedicated to open content, and how the same problem of documentation affects all communities alike.

  1. The first one is Creative Commons. One thing that I noticed was how useful the use of metadata was to gather and classify information through one of the biggest content “donors“, The Met. Creative Commons has this great wealth of information, searchable not only because 375,000 are available, but because there is existent metadata to do so. When you consider open works in the wild, the use of metadata is dependant of the platform on which it is uploaded, which means that works in data silos are more likely to contain metadata. One idea that came up during an interview with Creative Commons was related to how we transport data from one medium to another. If I go to a rural area to create art with children, can I think of making a metadata card that can be easily translated into the language of digital?
  2. Open hardware was my second entry point, due to the difficulty of determining what an open hardware project is. Compared to a book, a piece of hardware is comprised of different things: hardware, software, documentation and sometimes outside tools; therefore, it is more than the sum of its parts. But it doesn’t really sum because its elements are somewhat dislocated, although in principle, they interact with each other through the element’s interaction with the physical world. So the question remains: how can we define a particular element of open hardware? The OSHWA Certification is doing a great job in determining whether a particular group of elements constitute open hardware. The question that arises is whether metadata can help classify open hardware works in a way that it can even be useful for patent examiners to review prior art from open works, even those who are not part of a repository. That would mean that works can be decentralized and at the same time indexable, just like web pages.
  3. Finally, a solution comes from how some software and data projects on the web have come to use data schemas to make their content structured, easy to classify and standardized on the web. There are different types of schemas and taxonomies, as many as types of data that can be found.

It really makes sense that if libraries, museums and software have a standardized set of metadata tags that can be used to classify and organize creations, open works should follow suit. The question is: how and when will this happen?