It seems with the rise of a new technology, it soon follows on the discussion on how to standardize it. This is true for open data and the call for standards of key data sets where data on a particular topic would share the same schema across cities, states, counties, and countries. The promise is civic apps, which help bring data from rarefied portals to every day people, could be built-once and used-everywhere (“frictionless”). This provided a tremendous value for governments who can see the value in their work for open data. Standards on building inspections, food inspections, parks/trails, and social service directory have been proposed.
There is good reason to believe this can be useful. The GTFSdata standard (initially Google Transit Feed Specification then dubbed General Transit Feed Specification) unified bus and train directions that was into Google Maps and other programs. The integration made it possible to use Google Maps to get directions to a location with public transportation. But for most topics, open data standards will not provide the same benefit. While open data standards promise a better experience with apps that can easily connect to multiple portals, they will ultimately degrade the user experience for non-technical users unless some approaches to open data are fundamentally changed.
First, open data standards often rely on relational data models. For instance, data standards for inspections would depend on multiple tables: an inspection table, a table listing entities/business/buildings, a violation table, and so on.
But data portals do not handle relational data very well. So, as a result, a relational structure requires the first step to download or view all tables to be combined in an external program or programming language. While developers and programmers can handle those steps, it is significantly harder for non-technical users. Open Data has, rightly, been criticized for being too technical and this would not make it easier.
This puts user friendliness at conflict with the promise of universal, frictionless apps. The former provides immediate usefulness to a non-programmer where as the latter as a promise for user friendliness. Programmers though have proven to be quite adept at handling differences in schemas.;