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

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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 Data.gov. The new Data.gov.uk site that officially launches today been has been running for the last six months in an beta period.

Data.gov.uk has almost 3,000 data sets available. By contrast, the US site Data.gov, 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.

  • Arn0

    Wow – what a great idea!
    if only the french government could do the same…

  • http://brgs.me.uk Ben

    It’s nice that, as they’re holding all this data, we can get it out quickly and easily. The Freedom of Information Act makes getting data possible, but it was very slow and impossible for a member of the public to understand for data like ‘Suicides and Open Verdicts…’. Now we should see some quick and nice apps to improve interaction with government, and to access datasets.

  • http://www.ijustwantgadgets.com @richardbagshaw

    That is a great idea, seems to be busy tho as it isnt loading on my system! :-(

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  • Rich

    Tim Berners-Lee is a tour de force and visionary.

    This has the potential to transform government. It will suck when 10000 fat over-payed middle-management civil servants realise that a group of collaborators on the web can do 3x the job that they are currently doing with a 100% cost saving.

    Bring on the apps!

  • http://rajanand.biz Raj Anand

    Good to see that the UK government is launching this initiative, would help many organisations. I can’t wait to see the iPhone/Andriod and Web apps based on it.

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  • M Gee

    It would be nice to see the site work. Datasets list is empty. Scalability problem, wrong infrastructure I guess.

    • Sars

      Yeah, the whole site isn’t working at the moment.

    • Sars

      Oh, hang on, it’s working now. It seems the whole site’s run on Drupal.

      I like Drupal, but it’s not the most scalable of platforms, that’s true…

  • Luca

    With these free data are also included the UK postcodes ?

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