Celebrating 6 Years of DKAN

This month marks the six year anniversary of DKAN on drupal.org, and I’m happy to report that the project and community are stronger than ever.

DKAN started as an experiment in a coffee shop on a Sunday afternoon. What if we treated Open Data as content and paired it with the best content management platform available? What if we could grow the Open Source Open Data (OSOD) community by offering a PHP-based sidekick to CKAN? What if we could get just a small portion of the tens of thousands of government agencies using Drupal to share Open Data?

Six years later here we are.

One of the fun things about being a part of a project that has lasted this long is to chart the “evolution of ideas.” Some ideas work and some don’t. Some strategies that seem like no-brainers fail and some unexpected ideas flourish.

For example, I thought we could package the basic Open Data features into a module that could be added to any Drupal site. At the time there were already thousands of government Drupal sites. Brilliant, right? In practice not so much. Maybe a handful of agencies adopted this approach.

Ultimately, DKAN is where we arrived because in the end it was what our users wanted. As soon as there was a prototype there were adopters.

As we look back on six years of DKAN, here are some lessons learned about DKAN’s journey and what we are excited about next.

Successes

Breadth of Features

DKAN has a breadth of features that I’m very proud of and are competitive with other leading catalogs both open source and closed. How cool is it that DKAN offers drag and drop dashboards and click-together data visualizations? It is pretty f-ing awesome. Features like these are invaluable to DKAN adopters and are the result of the hard work of many contributors over the years.

Adoption, Especially Internationally

DKAN has been adopted by over 100 government agencies including a number of top level governments, US federal agencies, and has been deployed in 35 countries in all seven continents. DKAN is big in Japan.

I suspect that DKAN has been adopted by so many different countries because Drupal and the LAMP stack are easier for many governments to deploy and Drupal itself has strong international tools and a vibrant community.

Community

Speaking of community, we’re proud to be a part of the DKAN and larger OSOD communities. DKAN and CKAN have survived several waves of civic tech enthusiasm that can both enlarge and drain their communities. I enjoy connecting with DKAN adopters on our Slack channel who are pursuing ideas and solutions we are lucky to help support.

Values

DKAN and the community has kept true to its commitment to OSOD principals.

Unfortunately, with the rising visibility of open data, there has also been a rise of closed-source open data solutions — proprietary platforms, companies who sell support but don’t share their tools, or those who hide valuable information, rather than sharing it.

This makes open source projects like CKAN, Mark-a-Spot, ProudCity, OpenTreeMap, DKAN and others more relevant than ever, ensuring that we all work together to make the world a better and more open place by sharing resources, information, and our skills.

While large amounts of business capital are being spent on walled gardens, we are proof that governments get a much better value from contributing to OSOD projects.

Open Source Projects Attract Great Clients

I can’t say enough about how great our clients are. In the same way that Open Source companies are often better to work for, those clients who seek Open Source solutions are often the best to work with. They’re collaborative, innovative, and true public servants, dreaming up big ideas and working tirelessly to bring them to their communities.

DKAN is Often Best “In the Wild”

While companies like NuCivic, GovDelivery, Granicus, and now CivicActions have supported DKAN, some of the best implementations of DKAN have been by community adopters. This speaks to the strength of DKAN as a configurable tool and the brilliance of our community. One of my favorite examples is how New South Wales, Australia added Discourse as a commenting tool and forum. How cool is that?

Failures

Pantheon and Low-Cost Catalogs

My personal biggest disappointment in the DKAN project is the solution’s high barrier to entry.

Pantheon is an amazing hosting service that has offered an easy way to spin-up and manage DKAN catalogs, semi-automatic updates, and an extremely streamlined and easy-to-manage solution. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to completely roll out this low-barrier-to-entry option for a few reasons: We’ve had some problems with the initial installation; we haven’t documented and talked about DKAN on Pantheon; this solution still requires some level of developer expertise; and there’s no very low-cost support offering to accompany this option.

We believe strongly in lowering barriers to Open Data adoption, and we’d love to hear more about the market for such a lower cost offering. I’d love to see a low-cost Open Data catalog, ($100 a month? less?), that is adopted by thousands of entities. I spent 6 months trying to build that solution, and I’ll keep looking for a way to do it. Is this something your agency or organization has been thinking about? Reach out to us! We’d love to hear about your use case.

Frowning on Customizations

DKAN’s strength is the flexibility that Drupal provides. Want a blog? Just download a module or add a content type and some views. Want comments? Turn that on! Want Disqus comments? Download a single module and you are good to go.

For many reasons, previous companies maintaining DKAN have shied away from customizations. But in the last year, CivicActions, DKAN’s current home, has re-embraced this strength of DKAN both for clients and the community and the project is better for it.

Next Steps

I’m excited when I look at 2019 and beyond with respect to the DKAN project. We have some exciting features to add and some exciting projects we’re lucky to be able to work on. Here are some of our high level next steps:

Focus on the Community

We’ve historically had different levels of focus on answering community questions and responding to community tickets on Github and Slack, but our commitment to the community is the strongest it’s ever been strong and we want to continue that. Come join us!

Focus on Values

I think we can do more to communicate the values of and advocate for the adoption of OSOD tools like DKAN, CKAN and others. We have started a project, Open Source Open Data, as a focal point for our efforts. Let us know if you’ve like to be involved!

Drupal 8

We’ve started a prototype for the Drupal 8 version of DKAN which we are really excited about. We haven’t set on a specific architecture but the initial demo is 100% headless which offers some interesting possibilities. How cool would it be if DKAN and CKAN could share the same front-end? A decoupled Open Data catalog also makes it easier for a lot of front-end devs who don’t know PHP or Python to build catalog tools as well.

And, finally, a thank you to the community

It is hard to quantify the amount of work that has gone into the DKAN project. This anniversary is a celebration of the achievements of the DKAN community and all of the contributors and adopters along with way. We’re so proud of the work you’ve all done and we can’t wait to see what you do next.