So be honest how many of us every expected todays’s announcement would ever come? a day when the very conservative civil service of the United Kingdom made available very comprehensive government data sets available for free. OK there are a few notable exceptions (OS , Royal Mail and TfL spring to mind) but as a starting point to have nearly 2500 data sets available and a community of nearly the same number of application developers is a huge success.
How often is it that the UK government can demonstrate greater openness that the United States, this is a far more impressive launch than the much admired data.gov portal.
The data.gov.uk portal also represents a huge shift in mindset for government in the UK, I’m very proud of a letter which I received while working at the Ordnance Survey almost accusing me of sedition and threatening me with the official secrets act for blogging and suggesting the OS could make data more widely accessible.
Culture change is a term much branded about within the civil service, what we see with the data portal really is culture change.
From a technical perspective data.gov.uk also represents the publish first and sort out the quality / metadata later paradigm which governments must follow, an evolutionary approach is vital in the fast moving world of web today, achieving perfection and accounting for all potential uses of data is not feasible and can no longer be used as an excuse not release data “as is”
The role of Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Nigel Shadbolt in this change cannot be over stated without the “star” factor of these two individuals todays announcement would not have been possible. I look forward to reading the inside story of their activities in the next edition of Prospect Magazine which promises to be a major scoop.
Also influential with government has been the campaigning of 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.
Today of course is not the end of the battle, we need to keep the pressure on for all public sector data holders to default to making their information available, and there is still time to express support for free access to Ordnance Survey data by taking part in the current consultation process. Evidence for why this is important is illustrated by this example, just one of many issues caused by the current licensing regime.
To paraphrase outrageously, for Open Access to Government data, this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.
Written and submitted from the Google Offices, Copenhagen (55.683N, 12.571E)