In the evolving landscape of digital government, the choice of an open data platform can significantly influence transparency, engagement, and operational efficiency. While many solutions exist, CKAN and Socrata stand out as prominent options for creating open data portals. This post explores why governments might consider CKAN, an open-source platform, over proprietary alternatives like Socrata.

Global Adoption of CKAN

CKAN is trusted and utilized by numerous government agencies worldwide, reflecting its robustness and versatility. In the USA, the federal government’s primary data portal,, uses CKAN to manage and disseminate vast amounts of data across various sectors, serving as a testament to its reliability and scalability. Other notable adoptions include portals like in the United Kingdom, in the EU, in Spain,, in Germany, and United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’s, all of which highlight CKAN’s global appeal and effectiveness in meeting diverse governmental data needs.

Avoiding Vendor Lock-in

Vendor lock-in occurs when customers are dependent on a vendor for products and services and cannot easily switch to another vendor without substantial switching costs and inconvenience. CKAN, being open-source, eliminates this risk, empowering governments with the freedom to modify, upgrade, or tailor their solutions as they see fit without incurring prohibitive costs. Proprietary systems like Socrata can lead to a dependency on the vendor for updates, improvements, and even data hosting, which can be both limiting and costly over time.

The Role of Open Source in Public Digital Infrastructure

Open source software plays a vital role in building and maintaining public digital infrastructure. It promotes transparency, accountability, and participation by allowing independent verification of security and functionality. CKAN, recognized as a digital public good, exemplifies the benefits of open source in public administration by encouraging innovation, reducing costs, and increasing the reliability of digital services. Conversely, proprietary models like Socrata can constrain innovation and adaptation due to their closed ecosystems.

Full Control Over Data

Data sovereignty is crucial for government agencies. It involves having full control over the location, accessibility, and management of data. CKAN solutions enable governments to host their data as they choose, use any preferred standards for data security, and integrate seamlessly with their existing infrastructure. On the other hand, using a service like Socrata often means that data is stored on the vendor’s servers, which can create concerns about data security, access, and governance.

Extensibility and Customization

Extensibility in an open data platform refers to the ability to adapt and extend functionalities to meet specific needs. CKAN’s open-source framework allows full customization from the appearance to the underlying functionality. This flexibility ensures that any unique requirements of a government entity can be precisely met without waiting for vendor updates. In contrast, Socrata, while offering some level of customization, does not provide the same breadth of modifiability due to its closed-source nature, potentially leaving some needs unmet.

Support for Open Data Standards

CKAN’s architecture not only facilitates customization but also supports a range of open data standards, crucial for ensuring compatibility and interoperability in data sharing. Specifically, CKAN has support for the Data Catalog Vocabulary (DCAT), allowing for seamless integration and publication of datasets in accordance with international best practices. This feature is particularly important in the US and the EU, where federal and state mandates require that public data be accessible and in standard formats to ensure transparency and facilitate reuse. CKAN’s ability to be tailored for specific data standards further empowers government entities to meet local and international publication requirements efficiently.

Comparing key functionality

The following table gives a high-level overview of key functionality across Socrata and CKAN.

FocusSocrata focuses on publishing and managing data and the development of data catalogues, all within the overall Socrata data platform, which is a closed and proprietary system.
CKAN is powerful and sophisticated open source software widely adopted by governments, including in the US, to power open data portals, internal data management catalogues and metadata catalogues. 
Vendor lock-inProprietary software that prevents users from accessing, modifying, or distributing the underlying source code. This leads to vendor lock-in and makes it challenging to customise or switch to alternative solutions.CKAN is free to use, modify and distribute. There is no vendor lock-in, making it accessible and cost effective. Users keep complete control of their data and metadata.
It can be difficult and expensive to modify Socrata software to suit the client’s needs or integrate applications seamlessly with their existing systems.
CKAN is highly customisable through a variety of open source extensions that vastly increase its basic functionality and integrate seamless with a user’s existing data and digital operations.  
Support and maintenance
Users are completely dependent on Socrata to meet all their support and maintenance needs. 
In addition to any support provided by third-party vendors, users draw on global community of users and contributors. This community also helps to create a rich ecosystem of customisation extensions.
Socrata is used by large-scale companies and government bodies, mainly in the United States.
Used in some of the many governments, including United States open data portal, the state of Illinois open data portal, Oklahoma’s Open Data and the city of Boston.
Data publishing and managementUsers can access and update their data and metadata within the framework created by Socrata software’s dataset.

Integration with any data format or data source is possible, it seamlessly fits into existing data publishing and management workflows and integrate with existing as well as legacy systems.
Data platformSocrata is designed to help users share and analyse data within its data management platform. Used to power data management involving public facing and internal data platforms for governments at all levels around the world.
API accessHas built-in SODA (Socrata) API allowing users to access and interact with data stored in Socrata’s system of datasets. Developers can use API to build applications, dashboards and other tools.

CKAN’s API provides great functionality in terms of build applications, and developing portals, and tools to integrate with CKAN-powered data repositories, including complex integrations between systems. 
Data Visualisation
Socrata offers data visualisation capabilities that enable users to create interactive charts, maps, graphs, and dashboards to explore and communicate insights from their data.

Comes with a range of extensions for data visualisation designed to integrate seamlessly with user’s existing data tooling and present as part of an attractive, customised front-end experience.

Integration with other servicesSocrata provides a RESTful API that enables developers to interact with all the data hosted on the Socrata platform.API enables users to access datasets and other services stored on CKAN data portals and catalogues. Includes a RESTful API allows developers to interact with all aspects of its open data platform
Metadata cataloguing The Socrata metadata API is a standardised way for authenticated users to retrieve and modify asset-level metadata on all Socrata assets. CKAN comes with advanced metadata and cataloguing features to organise and structure internal data, supporting better data governance and discovery.
Data control

Has data control features to enable users to effectively manage data access, security, and privacy. 

Delivers enhanced security, including the ability to limit access to datasets by setting group and individual permissions and introducing data validation and audit trails that enable users to track change.
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In closing

As governments worldwide strive to enhance their digital services, choosing the right open data platform becomes critical. CKAN offers extensive benefits over proprietary systems like Socrata, including unmatched extensibility, avoidance of vendor lock-in, full data control, and the promotion of open source principles in public infrastructure. By opting for CKAN, government entities can not only meet their current data needs but also future-proof their digital infrastructure for emerging challenges and opportunities.

For governments committed to transparency, efficiency, and citizen engagement, CKAN represents a robust, flexible, and cost-effective solution that aligns with the principles of open governance.

Interested to hear more? Get in touch and one of our open data and CKAN experts will be in touch.

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