Open Data Policy Guidelines » Guideline 8

Mandate data formats for maximal technical access

For maximal access, data must be released in formats that lend themselves to easy and efficient reuse via technology. (See the Open Data Handbook, The Power of Information, 8 Open Government Data Principles, the 10 Open Government Data Principles and Open Government Data). This means releasing information in open formats (or “open standards”), in machine-readable formats, that are structured (or machine-processable) appropriately. Plainly, “open formats” refer to a rolling set of “open standards,” often defined by standards organizations, that store information in a way that can be accessed by proprietary or non-proprietary software means. These formats exist across an array of data types; a common example cited is CSV in lieu of XLS for spreadsheets (the former being accessible via a wider variety of software mechanisms than the latter). “Machine-readability” simply refers to a format that a computer can understand. One step beyond machine-readable data is structured data (or machine-processable data), a format intended to ease machine searching and sorting processes. While formats such as HTML and PDF are easily opened for most computer users, these formats are difficult to convert the information to new uses. Providing data in structured formats, such as JSON and XML, can add significant ease to access and allow more advanced analysis, especially with large amounts of information.

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