[Open-transport] What is an open format/standard (GTFS, etc.)

Stéphane Guidoin stephane at opennorth.ca
Thu Jul 18 15:55:56 UTC 2013

I am also spinning off a new thread from the "Open transport data tools"
thread since this point was a little off topic.

At one point I said that GTFS is not an open format/standard and Brian
asked me to explain what I meant. Though the definition of open in this
context is not clear (and even what a standard is...), I wanted to clarify
what I meant (and hear some comments if any).

For me, an open format in the context of open data should have the

   1. Freely available specs (probably obvious for everybody here)
   2. Use of open technology: No link with an existing implementation, no
   link with a specific development language or platform, no technological
   entry barrier, no patent related to it. (I guess everybody agrees on that
   one also).
   3. A clearly defined consensus-based governance (this is one where I
   will have less agreements). By that, I mean that:
   1. There is some sort of charter that explains how decisions are taken,
      mainly by "committee"
      2. Anybody can join the committee (paid membership is possible but
      should be low and allow for example non-profits or individuals to join).
      The charters should explain how people are joining, mainly if
there are too
      many candidates
   4. Optionally, an open license should be applied to the spec (for the
   moment, I don't know any format governed by a open-licensed spec, but there
   are some discussions about this at w3c. Read this for more:

The format does NOT need

   - to be part of standardization body, until the governance is clear
   - to be *created* on a consensus based process. Adoption is mainly what
   defines a de facto standard. Once we reach a certain level of adoption,
   stakeholders should agree on the governance.


>From what I see, many formats fall short on point 3, for example GTFS.

So why point 3. is important? Mainly because there is a strong risk of
lock-in for adopters when it does not work on a consensus. And this is bad.
It might not be bad _now_, but it can become in the future is some
organization feel that they are locked in. After that, they won't want to
engage in any non-officialized-ISO-like format.

Also note that consensus does not mean that everything is accepted if a
majority agrees. The charter can define the target and the raison d'etre of
a format as well as a set of criteria (or an algo) to evaluate the
relevance of requested changes. So it we say, for example, that the raison
d'être of GTFS is publishing data, any request to ease internal operation
of agencies should not be accepted from the beginning while request to
improve fare calculation for trip planning would be evaluated. (that's a
little black and white, but I hope everybody gets it.)


Stéphane Guidoin
Director, Transportation
Open North
Twitter: @opennorth / @hoedic
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