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28 May 2010

Open Data Standards

My response to Rhiza Labs CEO Josh Knauer:  On open government data, Tim Berners-Lee is almost right
I just watched the Gov 2.0 Expo video (May 27, 2010 in London, UK) featuring Tim Berners-Lee advocating government data standards, and your response [Rhiza Labs' Mr. Josh Knauer, see link to site above] that followed. I am a working practitioner of data standardization and transparency in data policy, and wanted to express my agreement with your commentary.

Tim Berners-Lee: Inventor of the World Wide Web (USA Today Lifeline Biographies)Mr. Tim Berners-Lee is a dynamic speaker. As the founder of Hyper-text Markup Language and plausibly the entire World Wide Web, he justifiably has the respect of all. However, his premise that linking to URL’s as the most effective mean of building a framework for data naming consistency reduces to glibness.

I worked as a Data Governance manager for two managed care programs, one federal, the other Medicare-funded at the state level. You are correct: uniform identifiers are the solution, and UUID’s (universal uniform identifiers, that are not language-specific) would be best. In the context of my healthcare related work, I would add the following data classifications used by CMS (Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Dept of Health and Human Services) to the other United States government-related data standards you cited:
  • HCPCS, ICD-9 and CPT (maintained by Ingenix) for medical coding 
  • National Drug Codes (from the FDA) for pharmaceuticals
  • the taxonomy of 11-byte alphanumeric codes for medical specialties 
Open Government: Collaboration, Transparency, and Participation in PracticeNote that the medical and pharmaceutical codes are usable with OR without electronic health records, which isn't possible with Tim Berners-Lee's advocacy of URL based standards. Remember that not everything is electronic or internet linked. Not yet.

URL’s are not robust. Links often break in 10 years, let alone 1000 years, and are far too vulnerable.

Tim Berner-Lee’s appeal for standardization, and ability to hold the attention of an audience that is never excited about data policy is certainly helpful. (Who is excited about the subject, other than those who do it, and those who suffer from the lack of it?) I hope that the spirit of his message is what is acted upon, rather than being used as a starting point for implementation.

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