I just realized that these question, although they could of course be applied to Open Data, have no clear focus on any "open" aspect. If they referenced a concrete open dataset, it might be a different story. As it stands, I guess that these question would be better suited for Stack Overflow or Database Administrators (in case of database-specific questions).

What do you think?

  • 1
    Isn't the mere fact of data being made public in non-useful forms reflect on the open nature of not-quite-open-in-reality data? Already it feels like this issue must surely have come up more often in this forum than at those developer/dba sites.
    – Roger_S
    May 16 '13 at 20:34

No developer hacks with open data any different to non-openly licensed data. So if you follow this argument through, you should avoid discussing any developer techniques.

But that seems stupid. There is a reasonably well-defined activity of data hacking/wrangling, which is having a big surge of interest because of all the open data being released right now. Having a forum to discuss how to best to approach badly formatted CSV files, merge multiple datasets together, how to convert to linked data, techniques for mash-ups on maps, ideas to produce cool visualisations etc. is valuable. Creating this new site and community around this activity has value that you would have say with a tag on StackOverflow, even though there is a bit of overlap. I'd rather discuss how to deal with that overlap, and that might mean carefully writing the scope.

The other sort of questions seen on the site - asking about finding or dealing with particular (open) datasets - is valuable too, but I think it would be a far less interesting site in general with just them.

  • 2
    These are challenges which, if included in the scope, I would agree add value to the site. I think the limitation should be that if the inquirer is discussing certain challenges, then reference the exact data (web location or otherwise) for which those challenges are arising from. That way the community can more effectively assist and the question becomes more grounded in the context of this site.
    – Taliesin
    May 9 '13 at 15:28
  • So if someone asks a question about a specific dataset is it on topic? If rcackerman had asked "How do I exatract data from xyz.gov's address dataset?" instead of "Good tools to parse repetitive unstructured data" would it have been on topic?
    – John
    May 11 '13 at 1:55
  • 2
    Yes, it would be on topic. But I think the scope of the site should be wider, to include more general questions about tools.
    – D Read
    May 11 '13 at 9:00
  • 2
    I think requiring that the question be about a particular dataset makes the entire exercise less valuable. Part of the purpose of SE sites is to provide a Google footprint for particular problems and their solution, so that people that have the same problem in the future can take inspiration from those solutions. If the problem is with a dataset, by all means, make the question about the dataset, but if the problem is general, why artificially constrain the question? Other people might have the same problem, but with a different dataset. May 14 '13 at 19:28

I said something similar in the other meta thread about the PDF extraction question, but I think the value of an Open Data community is at least in part that people can ask questions of others who are likely to have faced similar classes of problems. A lot of us have direct experience with getting data out of PDFs, since this is unfortunately a common way governments release data, and this pool of people therefore has a concentrated set of people who've dealt with this problem that Stack Overflow may not have.

About the PDF question in particular, I'm also not sure it's fair (again, as I said in the other thread) to categorize it as a "programming" question. The solution may well have ended up not requiring code.


@Taliesin answers pretty well but misses one thing. What exactly are open data specific questions? My understanding is that open data should be machine-readable.

Therefore, as I stated in a similar question targetting specifically data extraction, any question related to formatting data to be easily readable and therefore Open, is related to open data.

To summarize, questions about data extraction techniques are on-topic because it targets opening up data.

  • 1
    Machine readability is one important aspect. However, take for example the IMDb Top 250: It is very machine readable, and still it is nowhere close to open. Why? Because the data is not published under an open license. To make the concept of Open Data clearer, I strongly recommend Tim Berners-Lee's 5 Star Scheme where he explains the different aspects of high-quality Open Data.
    – Patrick Hoefler Mod
    May 9 '13 at 14:55
  • Yeah, I don't discuss all aspects of open data. I just mean some programming questions are related to open data because the programming will result in opening up data. But indeed, there is another deal, the license.
    – Vince
    May 9 '13 at 15:05

I think you have just about answered your own question. If the programming question does in fact target a specific open data set then it would be suited for this site.

For the examples you reference here, Stack Overflow would appear to be the more appropriate forum for those questions. However, for questions targeting sophisticated database handling Database Administrators would be a better option.

At the end of the day, questions on this site should somehow be related to the topic of Open Data, but if we are to move unrelated questions let's help the inquirer by pushing the question to the site with users best suited to answer the question at hand.

EDIT: While you are targeting programming questions here, the same question could be asked regarding generic database questions.

  • Thanks, I added the database aspect to my question.
    – Patrick Hoefler Mod
    May 9 '13 at 14:08

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