The Cape Town Open Data Portal is now live.
There are currently already 29 datasets online, ranging from the approved budgets for the past two years to the locations of district and community parks. This is a great development, and this repository will hopefully grow over time with many more interesting and valuable datasets. Eventually, we should also see apps and websites built based on these datasets, as well as APIs through which the data can be more dynamically queried.
However: We just checked a number of the datasets, and most of them are in the Microsoft Excel XLSX format.
This is doubly unfortunate for an open data site, also since the OpenDocument Format (ODF) is a completely open standard with multiple good implementations (software systems) available for free on multiple different computing platforms. Furthermore, OpenDocument was adopted as as national South African standard, and was also adopted by the South African government as their default document standard in 2007. Strictly speaking, all South African government documents should be in the OpenDocument format.
While it is true that Microsoft managed to push their office formats through the standardisation process (after the initial failed attempts), their formats fail to satisfy a number of the important requirements for open standards as defined in section 2.3 on page 10 of the government’s Mininimum Interoperability Standards for Information Systems in government (MIOS). Furthermore, the OpenDocument format is completely free and open, has a number of freely available first-class implementations on all computing platforms, and is not controlled by any one company. It is the more reasonable office format choice for open data that has to be accessible to as many as possible of South Africa’s citizens for as long as possible.
If you agree that OpenDocument and other really open standards would be better on the way forward, please leave your comments using the feedback page of the Cape Town Open Data Portal, citing this post if you like.