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April 03, 2011


Chris Taggart

See also http://OpenCorporates.com which is already solving this problem with the open data community in many countries, including the US ;-)

David G. Smith

It is very encouraging to see this work going on within multiple sectors and in various fora. It needs to be broader than just companies, whether publicly traded or privately held, the identifier scheme also needs to take into consideration other types of regulated or other types of entities, such as municipal authorities, state/federal/local agencies, and others. Currently there is a complete inability to perform any kind of meaningful analysis on that entity level, whether corporate or otherwise, as there is no open, nonproprietary means of identifying these regulated entities. In my work at EPA, I have begun to look at some of our major reporters, and begin taking initial steps toward consistency, whether defining and implementing a consistent means of dealing with such things as "Corp." vs. "Corporation", and putting in place web services to perform AJAX autocomplete functionality for those major reporters, where for example, the user would start entering information, and they could either select an appropriate choice from the ones that appear on a dropdown, or continue typing if it is not a match. Ultimately, a truly universal scheme of unique identifiers can replace this approach - and facilitate cross agency analysis of a number of things, whether issues of societal benefit, enforcement, assessing regulatory burden, and others.

Beth Simone Noveck

David, Thanks for your very helpful comments. EPA has really been out in front on this issue with people participating both in the Sloan and the upcoming Sunlight workshops. Are you in touch with your open gov team there? If you ping me via email or skype, I'll be happy to connect you, if you aren't already.

Beth Simone Noveck


Glad to hear from you. Have been following your work. Was planning to reach out in connection with the upcoming corporate planning meeting and the one we are planning for London. Would like to understand better the work you are doing and how it compares to other projects under way. If we can pack up our toys, I'll be thrilled. Shoot me a line via email or skype so we can arrange an opportunity to talk.

Chris Taggart

Will do. On the road for a few days (currently in San Francisco), but will email when I get back to London.


I would like to help. I am saving the data - see
http://semanticommunity.info/Build_Recovery.gov_in_the_Cloud and my comments at http://dallemang.typepad.com/my_weblog/2011/04/datagov-shutdown-is-my-fault.html

Alberto Cottica

This is great, and having an interoperable database of legal entities will go a long way towards staking out the territory. However, I am not sure that this is going to address the root problem of the Coasian "nature of the firm" you mention at the end of the Opportunity section. An approach based on legal entity, in a sense, inherently assumes the problem away: a firm is what the books say it is.

Having done research on industries myself, I am aware of the limitations of such an approach – but I am also aware of the great value of having such a database, limitations and all.

In Europe, there would be an obvious policy implication: you could track and make transparent subsidies to firms, which are legion, and therefore very opaque as well as expensive to the taxpayer. We could build a sort of Farmsubsidy generalized to all subsidies! Pure rapture. ;-)

Beth Noveck

Alberto, To be clear the goal is not to build a new database. But, instead, to look for ways to make the different numbering schemes talk to one another so that we can create mashups of existing databases. I agree with you, however, that the "firm" is a slippery thing, which is why we're better off trying to trace the evolution of its relationships over time. You are exactly right about the kind of pilot project that we're hoping to do and inspire others to do. Let me emphasize the latter!

Alberto Cottica

Beth, I am doing some work on network math, and maybe this biases my thinking. But in principle research on the nature of the firm could be done using networks; there already is fascinating research on networks of board members (the same person participates in more than one board, thereby linking different companies). The trick is to associate legal entities to other legal entities via some kind of links: this helps perceive constellations of companies rather than individual companies, ecosystems rather than single species.

Bidet Seat

Awesome project! Keep up the goodwork!


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