Vancouver-based David Eaves says the world's most successful open data set is the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS), a format developed by Google and the City of Portland, OR. He says developers have experimented and innovated with this data set more than any other: “All in all the benefits of a standard data structure are clear. A public good is more effectively used, citizens receive enjoy better service and companies (both Google and the numerous smaller companies that sell transit related applications) generate revenue, pay salaries, etc"
Since we're likely to hear more about open data standards in the future, it's worth making a few important distinctions upfront. First, GTFS is a standard for developers. It's intended to make it easy for developers to create transit applications. Since cities all over the world have similar transit systems, GTFS makes it easy for people to develop and port applications. But this is not a domain in which different parties need to share data across domains. I guess it would be possible in some cases to offer journey planning services between contiguous cities. In the main, this standard facilitates the creation of similar islands of functionality.
Second, Eaves assumes that the public good at the heart of GTFS is clear. I'm not sure it is. Is data about public transit systems automatically property of the public? The transit data generated by the City of Portland should be, presumably, the property of the City of Portland – whose taxpayers may want to have use of that data. But is extending ownership rights to the world clearly a public good? Perhaps it doesn't matter. Good data drives good apps, so everyone benefits in the end.
I make these distinctions because ACORD is the custodian of open data standards. However, we create and maintain standards for the benefit of all our stakeholders, not just developers. The aim of our standards efforts is sharing data rather than replicating functionality. And our focus is not on the value of data per se, but on the creation and servicing of relationships – relationships between teams, business partners and customers.
So, GTFS is a successful open standard if you measure success according to developer downloads. But it does not, as I understand it, have the potential to change the domain it serves. ACORD standards, on the other hand, improve both efficiency and effectiveness in the insurance domain. If GTFS was at the heart of a continuous industry-led effort to evolve the transit industry, then it would meet my key criterion for a true standard. Open Data Battle