2009-03-25: Document Freedom Day
Today’s celebration has the over-the-top theme: “global day for document liberation.” The thesis is that
“In a world where records are increasingly kept in electronic form, Open Standards are crucial for valuable information to outlive the application in which it was initially generated. The question of Document Freedom has severe repercussions for freedom of choice, competition, markets and the sovereignty of countries and their governments.”
“The Document Freedom Day (DFD) is a global day for Document Liberation with roughly 250 active teams worldwide. It is a day of grassroots effort around the world to promote and build awareness for the relevance of Free Document Formats in particular and Open Standards in general.”
A Little Less Manifesto Please
I fancy the simpler notion of promoting “document formats that can be used by everyone and safely implemented in free software.”
I must also caution that the existence of such a format does not assure that my computer-maintained documents will be able to survive intact beyond the availability of the specific software that I use to create and present them. There is no causality here, as much as we would like there to be. There is, on the face of it, a greater opportunity, but not necessarily one that I can exploit on my own.
Owning My Own Documents
Having said that, here’s what document freedom means to me:
- There is a public format,
- The format is safe to support in computer software without any limitation,
- The stable preservation of the format and the consistent availability of freely-available supporting software are assured into the indefinite future.
That would satisfy me that I am truly the owner of my computer-supported documents.
It takes more to satisfy me that the choice of different platforms and products is a minor concern and there are reliable substitutes. That would require that the level of interoperable use among (versions of) document-processing products be so high that faithful interchange of our documents and even successful roundtrip collaboration in their development and refinement are assured.
Too Slippery the Slope
I think that is worth striving for. I don’t think we are close yet. I don’t think any of the sloganeering and posturing is doing anything to accomplish it. There are too many mixed agendas:
- Ideological straight-jacketing: Confusing the means with the goal and demanding more of the means than the goal requires, even to a willingness to sacrifice the goal to the means
- Magical thinking: Assuming that a given step is closing the approach toward the goal without any reality check or a way of measuring achievement of the goal and of mileposts along the road
- Negativity: Opposing something rather than creating something, as if the elimination of the negative will assure the imagined positive
The Public’s Documents in Public Formats
There needs to be some serious reality-based assessment and measurability. That’s what it takes to be secure in the ownership of my documents. That’s what it will take to be sure that those documents that are the instruments of our civil society are indeed the public’s documents, using the public’s formats.
The lingering question, one to ask on next year’s Document Freedom Day, and then the year after that, and …, is who are the stakeholders and what action will they take to substitute reality for blind flag-following?
[update 2009-03-26T01:06Z: I should simply go to Rick Jelliffe’s blog before I open up my mouth about anything to do with open formats. If I could ever find the blankety-blank RSS feed I would be so much happier. Meanwhile, here are some relevant words on the status quo and the sow’s ear:
- Rick Jelliffe: Does an ‘open format’ provide the benefits it is supposed to? 2009-03-22, um, the very topic we are speaking of
- Rick Jelliffe: Another leap forward for openness? 2009-03-25, a bit of an insider cat fight surrounding the more acute question around who are the stakeholders for securing public ownership of the public’s documents. Is it really good for open formats that developers are the arbiters of what documents last? (I’m still reeling from “To me, the phrase ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ is seriously anti-innovation and anti-intellectual.”)
- Rick Jelliffe: Master Blaster. 2009-03-20, a compilation of Peter Sefton snippets on how dismal things are when the most successful interoperability is between Microsoft Office and OpenOffice.org using (wait for it) … Office binary formats for round-tripping. I am beginning to understand Rick’s HTML interoperability as the floor case for ODF Text and OOXML WordProcessing documents.
- Rick Jelliffe: MODUS – Minimum Open Documents Using Standards. 2009-02-26, rather deeper than the other ones, out to identify a technical approach to assured interoperability/interchange in a practically-satisfying way. The part on Verifiability I must print out and put under my pillow every night.]