The day has come to celebrate open file formats which can be used without restrictions! The Document Freedom Day! 🎉🎊

To store data on a computer it has to be converted to a sequence of two values: on and off. To understand the sequence you need a written specification. The specification is a paper telling you how to interpret the sequence to reconstruct your data (e.g. an image).

Open file formats are important for us! Everyone can read their specification and theoretically write a software to access and modify the data. It enables you to store images, audio recordings, documents and more. But it’s also the data we exchange like emails, chat messages, video streams and websites. If those are not open we need to use a specific software to use them. Some of those closed formats are: Photoshop files (PSD), the file archive format RAR and (depending on what country you live in) MP3.

In our lives a lot of things have to be digitalized to make them accessible to others. Writing messages, calling someone on the phone, taking pictures, listing to music and archiving your important documents on any digital device creates digital data.

Especially when it comes to messengers (e.g. WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or Snapchat) today’s world is pretty closed. You have to use their software/ their website/ their app to access the data you care about. On the other hand, the web recently made a huge step towards a more open web which is being used for websites. Silverlight, GIF (patents expired) and even Flash have almost been ditched from the Internet. They have been replaced by open formats like HTML Canvas, JavaScript and PNG. This enables users to pick their browsers more freely as they don’t need that one specific browser to surf the web. It’s also great because not every browser (e.g. Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Edge) is available on every operating system (e.g. Windows, OSX, Android, Linux, consoles).

The first steps to an open standard are always hard and involve a lot of discussions with others. Only if a lot of people are convinced the data format offers them the features they need it has got a chance to succeed in the wild. Closed formats are dictated by a closed group of developers. Therefore they are faster in their concepts and development. However, they are likely leaving out features that would be useful to the users but not feasible in the developer’s context.

Please, use open formats like PNG for images, OGG and FLAC for sounds and music, ODT for rich text documents or - best of all - TXT for plain text! Make sure you and those you share your data with can access it as they like. Otherwise you might lose access to it because a single software got discontinued.

If you are the author of your data, why would you allow others to hide it from you?

Thanks to Victoria for proofreading this article!