Roots, branches, leaves and sunlight


This is a quick little chart, which I made with help from @Alco last week in preparation for the reboot. It was not meant to be an accurate organigram - just potentially useful (or, at least, mildly amusing) as an overview of some the relationships that the Swiss open data association, it’s community and working groups have developed over the years.

Unintentionally, there turned out to be 24 nodes in this chart. As there are 24 days in an Advent calendar, and our open source community has an online challenge for this time of year, I’m going to “open up” each one of those nodes, one a day, starting this weekend.

You can probably guess what some of the nodes represent, and in any case you are very welcome to send in ideas and comments of :star2: shiny open things to put behind that door :door:



The first door in the calendar is data one could open on the go - perhaps while hiking up in the hills (Gurtenkulm) above Bern’s embassies and offices. In the words of newly elected CEO, Catherine Stihler:

"Digital skills and data use have always been a personal passion, and I am eager to assist groups across the world to create and share open knowledge, and encourage the next generation to understand that information is power which can be used to address poverty and other social challenges.”

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Using the Data Package Creator from the Frictionless Data project at Open Knowledge, I could describe this (not fully open; commercial usage on request) dataset of statistics on the languages of Swiss residents - the topic of a recent hackathon - and re-publish the metadata on GitHub. All without falling off a steep incline.

With no regrets of leaving the laptop at home, I downloaded an extract of a dataset from, and converted the first tab of the Excel spreadsheet to CSV format. Doing this using proprietary spreadsheet apps is easy… but… in order to stay open, I used SheetJS (in particular this conversion demo) to open the file, and EtherCalc to edit it.

Since the spreadsheet’s headers are tortuous, this was rather frustrating. But it worked. This initial datapackage.json was #issue linked to the ticket where we recommended and described this dataset last week.

The next generation understands very well that information on a smartphone is power. So, please, publish human-and-machine-readable data under open licenses. Don’t just make it look pretty - strive to make your knowledge useful! Have a great start to December, and stay tuned as we poke at another door tomorrow.

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Let’s talk about source, baby :musical_note:

//ch/open is the association for the promotion of Open Source Software and Open Standards in Switzerland, within which and many other similar initiatives have started, who continues to the parent association providing infrastructure and hosting the community of digital rights and free software activism. //ch/open’s members are behind DINAcon, the annual event we have been closely involved in. //ch/open is big on sustainability, and currently provides the best way for open source developers to get help and promotion in their projects, through ossdirectory and market, the Workshop Days and DINAcon awards.

During yesterday’s mobile data wrangling, I tried to see if purely open source tools could be used to get the job done. They could - though I came across a frustrating issue of not being able to import spreadsheets directly into the EtherCalc editor. This is something that has been raised at least a dozen times in various issues in the repository, and issue #105 proposes to make it an option in the interface. There is an import function (unfortunately broken - see my issue #651) on the home page, but it is easy to miss :relaxed: and users may also wish to import data into an exisiting sheet.

EtherCalc is the Node.JS port of the purely JavaScript-based SocialCalc, which I remember hacking on with an OLPC (One Laptop Per Child). There is fascinating history of web spreadsheets to be discovered in The Architecture of Open Source Applications, which deep dives into the workings of SocialCalc and explores the process of Porting to EtherCalc. I appreciate EtherCalc’s elegant interface and quick loading, and the project has a smart performance-oriented client/server design, based on a Node.JS asynchronous server and using a REST API and Web workers. Nevertheless, the absence of an up-to-date architecture document or a contributor’s guide in the GitHub repository and it’s wiki page is an omission that hurt the sustainability of the project.

The project has been primarily maintained over the past 6 years by Audrey Tang, a prolific programmer who is apparently today the Digital Minister of Taiwan. The second biggest contributor is @EddyParkinson from Australia.

So what does all this have to do with Switzerland, and //ch/open? The Internet made open source possible, interesting, and world-impacting, and it is through collaboration on wide-reaching projects like EtherCalc (or LibreOffice, for that matter) that the association makes good value for it’s members money and time. It is clear to me that the community needs to stay on top of emerging trends and practices - that cryptocurrencies and new renumeration models need to be where we go as software developers and promoters. Like Bountysource, which I’ll let introduce itself:

There are other popular platforms like this one where coders are earning their keep, from Patreon to FundRequest, new forms of association, like OpenCollective, probably a bunch of more local initiatives we should link to. I don’t know if a humble bounty will be enough motivation for the EtherCalc folks to find the time to work on the project. But I do hope that it does it’s bit to help to interest more people in the code - that it helps you, dear reader, to think about sustainable open source - and that, hopefully, soon we will be able to import open data into an open source spreadsheet directly on the open web.

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On the evening of May 1 in 2011, a friend of mine tweeted a link to a short article in the German online paper Pro Linux, mentioning the results of a study from Denmark on the cost saving potential of open source in the public sector. He added the hashtag #parldigi, and through this introduced me - at the time still living in the U.K. - to the Swiss movement for “digital sustainability” in government. It took many more years before I understood what Parldigi stood for, or met some of its members. Having the support of politically ambitious, technologically savvy people is a corner stone of the open data movement, and today the Parlamentarische Gruppe Digitale Nachhaltigkeit continues to debate and promote reform in the open source, data, hardware and related topics in Switzerland.

They also have a really cool new icon set, which has already been ported to iOS Messenger (GitHub) :wink:


I took a few minutes today to scrape the list of current members from their website, prepare a signed Data Package, and submit it to update their LobbyWatch page, pictured here.

You can see the proposed Data Package and it’s contents below, and feel free to send in any critiques or suggestions, such as what other columns you might like to see in a list like this.

Through this, I hope to nudge Parldigi to add an API to their website, for example by supporting an initiative like LobbyWatch which creates structured data about politicians and the political process. Something that, nota bene, has been a topic at over the years, with some of these interesting projects resulting, e.g.:

It took time before I understood and accepted the idea that data activism was a form of policy, that our weekend hacking had a measurable impact, and the role of activists a critical one in defining the democracies of the 21st century. Engagement to open data is a way to participate in a digital democracy, and so my well-connected friend continues to support the movement, primarily through his research and teaching at the University of Bern. We’re not always on the same vine, but we are consistently finding ways to work together. Check out these slides from his introduction last week at an open lecture in Zürich:


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HAPPY FAMILY. The existence and maintenance of which is thought to make a politician fit for public office.
From The Doubter’s Companion by @JohnRalstonSaul, p.156 (1994)



If you’ve been following the inverted tree at the top of this thread, you’ll see that we are now at the last of the “roots”. This has been the matter of some debate already with my colleagues. What motivated all this? What keeps the fire burning? We have had the roots of activism, business, policy - only one core root remains, in my mind, and that is the root of culture.

Over the years the one group that has been consistently active, ceaselessly promoting the cause of copyright law reform in Switzerland and Europe. Campaigning for Open Access - and all the things that it enables from art to science - has been the purview of the humble yet committed group at I still don’t know much more about the allmenders, as they call themselves, than what the Internet says. But I do believe they are fighting the good fight.

The simplest way I can think of right now to support their cause, is to send them some cash. I’m making a donation, with the proceeds of a sale of sadly much devalued crypto… You can do the same, with the details here: :green_heart:

We all have a choice - keep worrying about those accounts, or worry about what is happening to the works of culture and language that define and shape us and the next generation. Set up a comfy nest, or set an example.

If you do donate after reading this post, let me know. One of the neatest #glamhacks we’ve done over the years is “Да Да Ботник”, a minor feat of machine learning and net art. The code is very dusty, and the repository is in the archive. But if I hear of at least 1 K CHF :dollar: filling the accounts of the allmenders this holiday season :christmas_tree: , I will visit the Danger zone and bring the bot back to life. I promise.

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Open != gratis. Open is a commitment: to customers, partners, fellow users. Whether it is publishing quality code based on shared principles and standards, or publishing quality data that is authentic (traceable), maintainable (living) and responsible, we are developing a common vision is of a smarter world where humans and machines work better together. Whether we apply this for peace or profit is an individual choice.

So make your choice, and take a stand! Today, you can show solidarity with the people of Paris and the open source movement by leaving breadcrumbs to the Paris Open Source Summit, adding this code to your website:

<script src="" integrity="sha256-BbhdlvQf/xTY9gja0Dq3HiwQF8LaCRTXxZKRutelT44=" crossorigin="anonymous"></script><script src=""></script>

This will invert your page colors through a bit of jQuery magic, and add a button at the top right of the page with an explanatory text and link to the Summit’s home page in French and English. Hashtag your screenshot with #POSShack #OSSPARIS18

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Yesterday I didn’t manage to “open the little door” due to a packed schedule, so today is a double feature!

:unlock: OpenGLAM is an initiative of Open Knowledge that promotes free and open access to digital cultural heritage, held by GLAMs: Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums. It became more than just a hashtag when the European Commission flagshipped it as part of the DM2E (Digitised Manuscripts to Europeana) project, dedicated to “building the tools and communities to enable humanities researchers to work with manuscripts in the Linked Open Web”. It’s basically a great excuse to spend the night in a museum :crescent_moon:

My advent’s calendar hack was to contribute a Data Package to the #openglam tag on GitHub. At the last OpenGLAM event, we received data from the Lichtspiel film archive in Bern - who sent us an export of their film database. We did not have time to do something with it at the hackathon, so I wrote an initial converter and created a Data Package from it yesterday. Feel free to use it to discover gems from the history of Swiss cinema! And share ideas via the Issues tab of what we might do with it.

An important and increasingly visible part of the activities of Open Knowledge in Switzerland have been the hackathons related to Open Cultural Data and the OpenGLAM network, that have come to be known as #GLAMhacks. During these events, people like myself are let loose on databases of digitized works, and encouraged to be creative, explore, and to help promote the cause of openness and remix culture. No other hackathon series has had quite the same variety of project ideas, in my opinion. We have had theatric performances, games and game data, and even A.I. ghosts. Boo! :ghost:

Behind the scenes of GLAMhack, a highly dedicated and well organized team encourages and supports institutions from around the country to prepare datasets for open publication. And by open, they really mean it. In the slide that follows from a presentation by one of the project’s initiators, Beat Estermann explains yesterday how Open Government Data plays out at a lunchtime event in Bern.

The same trickle-up effect is seen in the community’s efforts, as datasets go from being handed to someone on a USB stick, being shared at the hackathon on our DataTank™, to being cleaned up and published on the national Open Data portal, to being promoted on the international, Europeana portal - as in the case of the host of the first hackathon, the Swiss National Library. Contrast this to the usual trickle-down path of official reports and statistics, and you’ll see why we’re excited.

So what has the community contributed to this, besides hundreds of semi-random project ideas which can be found on ? The #GLAMhack team also happens to be one of the most careful monitors of the impact of hackathons in Switzerland, running surveys, keeping track of various numbers, and publishing a report annually - this year’s draft is being finalized, but you can previous editions linked here.

Compiling some of the numbers from their report, I’ve put together this quick estimate of the value of our contributions over the years, making some very very low assumptions about the average time (2/3 of planned time) and wage (the country average according to Wikipedia) spent contributing at the events.

Year 2015 2016 2017 2018 TOTAL
Participants 100 100 90 65 355
Projects started 24 15 10 15 64
Datasets 15 75 116 148 354
Start Friday, February 27, 2015 at 10:00 AM Friday, 1 July 2016 at 10:00 Friday, 15 September 2017 at 10:00 Friday, 26 October 2018 at 10:00 -
Finish Saturday, February 28, 2015 at 16:30 Saturday, 2 July 2016 at 17:30 Saturday, 16 September 2017 at 17:30 Sunday, 28 October 2018 at 16:00 -
Hours 30.5 31.5 31.5 54 147.5
Working hours 20.33 21.00 21.00 36.00 98.33
Participant hours 2,033.33 2,100.00 1,890.00 2,340.00 8,363.33
Average wage 30.94 30.94 30.94 30.94 123.76
Wage contributed 62,910.84 64,973.49 58,476.14 72,399.04 258,759.52

Not bad, for an event series which had a total budget of half that amount, and of course we are not including here the full downstream effect of new data published thanks to this community.

Additionally, I spent some time today thinking about the feedback I got at the last #GLAMhack to some discussion about improving the platform, and complementing our old wikis with newer tools, adding these as issues to Dribdat. Please let me know if any of these resonate with you, and give us a :star: !

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After initiating the debate in the media and in politics, it is time to make open data happen: right here, right now, with the tools at hand, the data within reach, to bring out the ideas everybody is coming up with. We are kick-starting a community of designers, coders, communicators and activists to help Switzerland move towards a more ‘direct data democracy’ for participation, transparency and accountability from the grassroots.

With these words, in three languages, the first MAKE hackathon was announced - a year before the association was founded. Organized by Jeremy Stucki (Interactive Things), Andreas Amsler (Politnetz), Hannes Gassert (Liip), and myself. A high caliber team running the first multilingual and multi-site hackday in Switzerland dedicated to opening data for good. Here’s my first email to Hannes, whom I met at Random Hacks of Kindness in Basel:

Our goals were to create an open platform. MAKE was more than just a name or hashtag, it was a brand and a set of tools and guidelines. We wished to enable any hackathon organizer to be able to use it, either by working with us directly, or by following the guidelines - which later included at least one participant from the association, and the lesser of 10% of the budget or 1000 CHF contribution to our association. And we had grand plans for the joint venture as we carried our activism out across the country (GeoAdmin map).


Here I won’t go into the details of what happened at these events, since you’ll find photos and descriptions all over this forum, in the wiki and on the website. Suffice to say that we’ve been able to MAKE a lot of open data - not just help to get the ball rolling and accelerate the deployment of open data portals, but to kickstart and help a lot of local initiatives get going.

We haven’t been very systematic yet about keeping records ourselves, and seeing “what happened next” to the projects remains a research exercise for the undaunted. To help you get started, I’ve taken the first step to aggregating our old wiki projects. The new project site already has a CSV and JSON format API, and to complete the migration to, we would need to automate the entry of every URL in the table into Dribdat.

The aggregation happens in a scraper (automated extraction of structured content from a Web site) running on the platform of Open Knowledge Australia. There are several other projects from Switzerland running on this platform, whose purpose I consider to be very much in the spirit of #makeopendata.

Download the data

^ What are you waiting for? :wink:

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