There’s a buzz at GUADEC, an open source computer desktop conference in Birmingham right now, about the idea of the Online Desktop. Increasingly we all use web services rather than local applications, and store our own personal knowledge in other people’s proprietary formats and software. GMail rather than Outlook, Flickr rather than iPhoto.

Just as the Open Knowledge Definition protects our public knowledge, we also need something to protect our private data. Here’s what the Gnome people are saying about the idea of an Open Service Definition:

We need a Free Services License, Open Service Definition, Free Terms of Service, or whatever we want to call it. I see more and more people talking about this, even aside from the GNOME Online Desktop conversation. Topics to cover in an Open Service Definition might include ability to export your personal data, your right to own your data’s copyright, etc. There may also be a requirement to use an Affero GPL type of license. This is very open-ended and unclear at the moment.

To me the reason open source works is that multiple parties with competing interests can collaborate on the software. What would make multiple parties interested in collaborating on a service? Probably a fairly radical-sounding set of requirements. But the GPL was pretty radical-sounding too, many years ago.

(from Havoc Pennington’s blog)

And perhaps, in addition to protecting our private data, the same definition could reward services which use and promote open knowledge. Something using data from OpenStreetMap should perhaps be more likely to be branded an Open Service than something which uses Google Maps.

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CEO of ScraperWiki. Made several of the world's first civic websites, such as TheyWorkForYou and WhatDoTheyKnow.

4 thoughts on “We need an Open Service Definition”

  1. I entirely agree — and we’ve been discussing for a while now :) See your post on okfn-discuss (and the following thread) back from last October entitled: Open Service Definition.

    Out of that discussion came the following proposed definition of an open service:

    An open service is one:

    1. Whose data is open as defined by the open knowledge definition though with the exception that where the data is personal in nature the data need only be made available to the user (i.e. the owner of that account).
    2. Whose source code is F/OSS and is made available.

    Remark: The OKD requires technological openness (i.e. provision in an open format)

    Remark: The OKD also requires that data should be accessible in some machine automatable manner (e.g. through a standardized open API or via download from a standard specified location).

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