The UK government has opened up a vast hoard of data to the public online, on a website called data.gov.uk.
The data, containing goverment records on everything from NHS dentists to planning applications to suicides, was all previously available under the Freedom of Information Act, but the process for getting it out was slow and complicated. Now it’s all within a few clicks. Most significant of all the government is encouraging third-party developers to get in there and make apps out of it – turning the great data tidal wave into simple usable streams: for example – NHS dentists near you – an iPhone app already out. Otherwise it’s possible to download full reports on particular area from the internet.
The government brought in Tim Berners-Lee, known as the father of the internet to oversee the project, which has got geeks, sociologists and anyone with an interest in modern Britain excited.
Possible results of the new open data site:
Improved services – it should be easier for members of the public to find out about the government services near them and be better informed about what’s going on nearby in terms of crime, housing prices or planning permission etc.
Benefits to companies – they’ll be able to find out more about their customers.
Lots of fresh material for developers – anyone with a good idea has heaps of valuable data to play with.
Reduce inequalities – data such as what pay grade disabled public sector workers are on could show up bigger trends of inequality. Having hard facts available would make this clearer to general public, in theory this could put pressure on fixing problems currently hidden.
Loss of civil service jobs – potentially some of the ways of using data on the site could render some administrative jobs unnecessary
Journalists no longer getting scoops with Freedom of Information requests – it will be developers getting scoops really, as they’ll be able to put the information together in new and surprising ways, building useful services. However, maybe newspapers etc, will be able to commission gov.uk apps they way they commission infographics. More information will work in favour of journalists as well as there’ll be more to write about..