What is Who's On First?


Who’s On First (WOF) is a gazetteer. If you’ve never heard the term “gazetteer” before it’s basically just a big phone book, but a phone book of places rather than people.

  • It is an openly licensed dataset. At its most restrictive, data is published under a Creative Commons By-Attribution license. Whenever possible, and this is true of our own day-to-day work, data is published under a Creative Commons Zero public domain license.

  • Every record in Who’s On First has a stable permanent and unique numeric identifier. There are no semantics encoded in the IDs.

  • At rest, each record is stored as a plain-text GeoJSON file. Our goal is to ensure that Who’s On First embodies the principals of portability, durability and longevity. This led us to adopt plain-vanilla text files as the base unit of delivery.

  • Files are stored in a nested hierarchy of directories derived from their IDs.

  • There are a common set of properties applied to all records which may be supplemented by an arbitrary number of additional properties specific to that place.

  • There are a finite number of place types in Who’s On First and all records share a common set of ancestors. As with properties, any given record may have as complex a hierarchy as the circumstances demand but there is a shared baseline hierarchy across the entire dataset.

  • Individual records may have multiple geometries or multiple hierarchies and sometimes both.

  • Records may be updated or superseded, cessated or even deprecated. Once a record is created though it can never be removed or replaced.

  • Lastly and most importantly Who’s On First is meant, by design, to accommodate all of the places.

Who’s On First is not a carefully selected list of important or relevant places. It is not meant to act as the threshold by which places are measured. Who’s On First, instead, is meant to provide the raw material with which a multiplicity of thresholds might be created.

From Who’s On First’s perspective the point is not that one place is more important or relevant than any other. The point is not that a place may or may not exist anymore or that its legitimacy as a place is disputed. The point is, critically, that people believe them to exist or to have existed.

This is why we often refer to Who’s On First as “a gazetteer of consensual hallucinations”.