UK government sets its data free, for the people's apps

The UK government has decided to make the non-personal data it holds available for web developers to create a new wave of public applications. It’s a bold move which will open up more data than even the US government holds at The new site that officially launches today been has been running for the last six months in an beta period. has almost 3,000 data sets available. By contrast, the US site, has less than 1,000 data sets. The UK site includes 22 military data sets and even one called Suicide and Open Verdict Deaths in the U.K. Regular Armed Forces. Other data sets are for traffic accidents, air passengers stats, agriculture, school results, etc.

So far over 2,400 developers have registered to test the site and provide feedback, with 10 applications have been created. These include PlanningAlerts, a free service that emails you if someone has put in a planning application to build near your house (although to be fair it launched before the government’s move). FillThatHole lets people report potholes and other road hazards across the UK, using location data from the Office for National Statistics.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, launches the site today at the offices of The Guardian newspaper which has been campaigning hard since 2006 for more UK government data to be made available. And to be fair, his release of data has taken the government some time. It may well have been eventually persuaded by the potential for cost savings across public services, than any high-minded approach to free data, of course.

Also backing the project is Stephen Timms MP, minister for Digital Britain. It’s perhaps notable that at the launch today will be Richard Allan, director of public policy, Facebook and Peter Barron, director of communications and public affairs, at Google UK.

The UK government, with quiet prodding by former innovation minister Tom Watson among others, has been edging towards this move by holding such events as Show Us a Better Way, a competition with cash prizes for government data mashups.

The UK site does a lot to promote Semantic Web standards, given Berners Lee’s involvement.
The legal framework of the UK’s Freedom of Information Act has allowed for this release of data.

In London, Mayor Boris Johnson has announced the city will open an online data warehouse later this month with more than 200 data sets relevant to London residents.