Last week, there were a couple of random tweets that flew between Ed Walters, Don Cruse, and me that weren’t really a big deal in and of itself, but it got me thinking about the way that Government data is compiled, accessible, online, authoritative, and free to the end-user. Ed’s tweet was what caught my eye, when he said:

“#opengov divide is between free and open, IMHO. @Google=free, @Fastcase=open (for example). #lawgov”. 

There were a few more tweets amongst the group, where I asked if this meant that PACER was in the “open” category the same way that “Fastcase=open” (or if you’re in Texas, “Casemaker=Open”)? Don Cruse didn’t think so and added:

“Nope. PACER tries to restrict reuse and redistribution of data, putting it in a form that’s hard to access.”

The whole Open/Free access to government information, especially the laws, regulations and court decisions that we have to abide by, made me think of the old saying of “you can have it fast, cheap or good… now pick two.” Only with the type of information we’re talking about here, there may be more than three things we need, yet we may only be able to still pick two of those things in what we end up with.

I guess the Holy Grail of pushing the type of government information that those of us in the legal industry would like to see, has the following characteristics:

  • Complete
  • Open Access
  • Online Content
  • Authoritative 
  • Free

Now… pick which two you want.